A spike in auto fatalities has insurers looking at how to encourage good driving behavior. Technology is coming into play.

As I discussed in my previous blog, despite all the talk about driverless cars, miles driven and traffic fatalities are both on the rise in the US.  An upturn in “driving while distracted” may be contributing to the surge in fatalities. A State Farm survey released in December 2015 showed that, while fewer individuals now talk on hand-held cellphones while driving (down from 65 percent in 2009 to 51 percent in 2015) the percentage of those texting while driving has actually increased (31 percent in 2009 versus 36 percent in 2015).  And the percentage of drivers admitting to accessing the Internet–using GPS, reading or responding to email, and reading or updating social media–while driving has more than doubled, from 13 percent to 29 percent.

Automobile manufacturers and auto insurers have worked diligently since the 1930s to develop and incorporate safety features such as seat belts, air bags and anti-lock brakes, and insurers have undertaken numerous campaigns to encourage safe driving behavior.  (Interestingly, “unbelted” motorists comprise only about 13 percent of the driving population, but account for about 48 percent of all fatalities).

While innovations such as telematics (and the analytics derived from telematics-based data) are helpful, insurers may have to do more to identify indicators of distracted driving and to come up with new ways to deter drivers from using smartphones–and engaging in more old-fashioned forms of distracted driving, such as eating or grooming–while on the road.  Many auto insurers provide useful advice on their websites about how to avoid distracted driving, while also hiking premiums and cancelling premiums for drivers found to have been at fault in distracted driving incidents.  The increase in accidents and fatalities has caused auto insurance premiums to rise across the board as auto insurers scramble to catch up with a changing risk environment.

So far, there has been little movement toward more technological solutions, such as devices that monitor or even block smartphone use while driving.  Insurer TransUnion and communications provider CellControl partnered in 2015 to offer a new product called DriveID aimed at discouraging distracted driving, primarily by letting parents track and, if necessary, block their teenagers’ phone use while driving.  Such initiatives are in their early stages and it remains to be seen whether growing alarm about increased traffic fatalities outweighs concerns about drivers’ rights to privacy.

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