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Do Drivers Still Need to Pay Attention?

The advent of safety features as standard in new vehicles isn’t a new idea.  In fact, we’ve come a long what since the first federal seat (safety) belt law went into effect in 1968; in 2015 safety belts saved an estimated 13,941 lives, and for drivers and front-seat passengers, using a lap and shoulder belt reduces the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent in an SUV, van or pickup and by 45 percent in a car, notes the Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute.

Since 1998 when front airbags became standard, insurers watched claims severity drop as a result of frontal airbags, which reduce driver fatalities in frontal crashes by 29 percent and fatalities of front-seat passengers aged 13 and older by 32 percent.  The Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute further report that side airbags that protect the head reduce a car driver’s risk of death in driver-side crashes by 37 percent and an SUV driver’s risk by 52 percent.

Seatbelts and airbags are now joined by antilock brakes (ABS), traction control, electronic stability control, crash protection and avoidance systems, tire pressure monitors and of course, telematics.  These advancements will merge into even more advancements as auto manufacturers scramble to bring autonomous vehicles to the road, which is expected to occur within the next five years.

All of these safety advancements, especially the most current ones, have the potential to impact driver behavior, or more precisely, driver expectations.  We’ve all seen the commercials on TV–a young driver is distracted momentarily by looking down at a text message on his mobile phone, and doesn’t see the woman passing in front of him in the crosswalk. Yet his vehicle both recognizes and reacts, automatically applying the brakes to avoid what would otherwise be a catastrophic accident.  

From the insurer’s perspective, this potential shift in driver expectations (relying more on vehicle safety technology and worrying less about accidents, therefore paying less attention while driving) can have deadly consequences.  For example, distracted drivers killed 3,477 people in 2015,10 and injure more than 1,100 every day, reports the National Safety Council. “At any given moment, up to 7% of all drivers are using a cell phone while driving,” notes the report. “Teen drivers are even more at-risk, with distraction leading to 6 out of 10 crashes.”

The bottom line is that, regardless of the level of sophistication of the installed vehicle safety system, the driver must still be actively and fully engaged in the task of driving, continuously monitoring their driving environment, and paying close attention at all times to every aspect of the rules of the road.

So how can insurers help their customers understand the importance of giving the task of driving their full attention?  While some traditional insurers offer a break in premiums related to advanced accident prevention technologies, those that offer usage-based insurance have a tremendous opportunity to address faulty driver expectations by using technology that enables them to distinguish between safe and risk drivers, and offer discounts and other benefits for more attentive behind-the-wheel behavior.  

In fact, the biggest benefit to both the driver and to the insurer is when the driver’s behavior actually changes as a result of receiving valid, reliable and granular feedback, such as the exact time the driver spent texting, on Bluetooth, just talking on the phone or swiping, typing, etc.  The insurer, meanwhile, benefits from incorporating that data into loss trends that provide insights into claims frequency and severity.

Meanwhile, the message needs to be that until the day comes that vehicles are fully autonomous–and standardized to include safety features from top to bottom–the driver needs to pay attention to the road and the task at hand.

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Categories: Blog,Distracted Driving