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Travel habits can predict driving and distraction behaviors

A recent study found that young men are more prone to distracted driving than other groups. People who characterized themselves as neurotic or extroverted also drive distracted more frequently. Older women who feel like they are in control over their behavior tend to be less distracted. The study, out of Norway and published in Frontiers in Psychology, looks at the driving habits of Norwegian high schoolers and adults.

While preliminary, the study could hold powerful ramifications for the insurance industry, where premiums are priced based on traditional metrics like credit, gender, claims history, and where you park your car. Risk assessments typically don’t consider driver psychology and have only recently started looking at distraction as a risk variable.

But we wondered if certain psychological traits account for stronger distracted driving, could behaviors from a person’s life outside of driving reveal how they behave behind the wheel? For example, if a person is a cyclist and has to worry about the threat of cars as they ride, are they safer drivers than the general population? What about frequent fliers, who are always rushing off to their next meeting – do they make more phone calls while they drive? Commuters on public transportation are accustomed to using their phones as they travel – does that behavior follow them when they get behind the wheel?

We looked at the driving behaviors of over 6,000 thousand drivers over the past couple months to find out. We identified drivers who are also cyclists, frequent fliers, or public transportation commuters. Our analysis includes the amount of driving time they spend distracted with their phone in general, texting and using apps, making handheld and hands-free phone calls, speeding, and how often they slam on the brakes for every 100 miles.

Cyclists are safer drivers than you

Cyclists know the dangers of the road and that knowledge translates to their driving behavior and how often they use their phone while driving. Cyclists spend 21% less time speeding than the typical driver and they have 14% fewer hard brakes. They’re also generally less distracted than the average driver by about 6%. And they spend less time actively texting or using apps by 6%. But cyclists aren’t saints – they spend 11% more time than average with handheld calls. However, overall, cyclists are safer and less distracted drivers than the general population and have a less risky driver profile for insurers.

Distracted driving by travel type

Think twice about driving with a frequent flier

Frequent fliers have stuff to do, places to be, people to see, and their driving behaviors reveal their life in the fast lane, quite literally. Frequent fliers spend 35% more time speeding than the average driver. Yet, somehow, they make less hard brakes. Frequent fliers are more distracted overall, spending 10% more of their time with phone-related activities. But, frequent fliers spend 77% more time on hands-free phone calls than the typical driver, perhaps the most astonishing finding in this analysis. Speeding more and heavier distracted driving make frequent fliers riskier than average drivers.

Public transit commuters have picked up bad habits

It’s easy to use your phone when you’re on the bus or train – it’s one of the perks of commuting by public transportation. But our research shows that it may be a difficult habit to kick when public transit commuters get behind the wheel. Commuters are 7% more distracted than the average driver – they text more often, make more hands-free, and handheld phone calls. But, they also spend 11% less time speeding and make nearly 13% less hard brakes. In terms of an overall risk profile, speeding and braking less certainly help, but the heavier levels of distraction significantly increase commuters’ probability of crashing.

The upshot: Should you charge frequent fliers more and cyclists less?

In a world without personalized and dynamic data, these findings would suggest that insurers should update their risk profiles to include transportation behaviors to their rating variables. But we know that every driver is unique regardless of their behaviors outside of the car, and there can be a frequent flier who never uses her phone and a cyclist who is a complete maniac behind the wheel. The key is that all this information is knowable today through mobile telematics and usage-based insurance, from typical driving behaviors like speeding, acceleration, and braking, to distracted driving activities. Insurers can use this data to build complete personalized risk profiles for all their drivers, whether they fly, cycle, ride the train, or are neurotic young men.

A note on comparisons

Keep in mind, there is overlap among the groups. For example, a person can be both a cyclist and a frequent flier. This analysis focuses on the individual groups compared to the general population, not against each. So, saying cyclists are safer drivers than frequent fliers isn’t necessarily correct. Also, note that the general population will fluctuate comparison to comparison as drivers move in and out of the specialized groups.

Categories: Blog