Distracted Driving is Enemy No. 1 for Stable Personal Auto Rates

After a tough couple of years, personal auto insurance rates finally started leveling out in 2019.

But given the rise of distracted driving, could the stability in the current personal auto market merely be the calm before an upcoming storm?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, 9% of all fatal crashes are attributable to distracted driving—a number that is likely significantly higher when non-fatal accidents are taken into consideration, points out Ana Robic, COO, Chubb Personal Risk Services.

Indeed, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that nearly 80% of vehicle crashes involve driver inattention. Although eating and drinking, talking to a fellow passenger, applying makeup, programming a GPS or navigation system, or simply adjusting the radio all qualify as distracted driving, using a cellphone is undoubtedly the biggest concern: According to a study conducted by Cambridge Mobile Telematics last year, phone distraction occurred in 52% of trips that resulted in a crash.

“Distracted driving is a concern for us as carriers, a concern for the insurance industry and a concern for the general public,” says Todd Davis, vice president of personal lines field product at Nationwide. “Understanding distracted driving and how we can help take a bite out of that problem is something we’re really focused on.”

In the early stages, that means investing in telematics and advanced analytics to find correlations between distractions and accidents. “With the data we have, that’s something we as an industry can do that the general public can’t do in terms of really getting under the covers of what behaviors result in what outcomes,” Davis explains.

By tracking distracted driving behavior through its usage-based insurance mobile app program, Nationwide has uncovered insights on which distractions are most dangerous—talking on a headset, for example, is not as distracting as actively texting, which requires the driver to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel.

“We’re still working on the study, but when we look at different types of distractions and their correlations with accidents, drivers that are actively engaging with their phone are more than twice as likely to have an accident,” Davis says—an alarming discovery considering that Nationwide’s data also suggests drivers are engaging with their phone almost 20% of the time they’re driving.

Insights like these will help with the first step of curtailing distracted driving, which is education and awareness, Davis says. Next is figuring out how to use the data for prevention: “How do we reach the customer to say, ‘These are your behaviors—now here’s what to do about it’? We’re just on the tip of that. I think we all have the noble goal of wanting our customers to be safer, but changing behavior is hard. We’re still in the learning phase.”

Chubb has already kicked off that process for one particularly challenging segment of the driving population: teenagers, Robic says, who, based on their limited tenure on the road, are more likely to be involved in auto accidents, according to data from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety data.

The Chubb at the Wheel™ app for teenagers of Chubb Masterpiece auto clients records a teen driver’s trip, the time of day they drive, and any time they’re engaged in distracted behavior, “such as when they’re driving and using a headset, AUX cable, cellphone speaker or handling their phone for texting or calling,” Robic explains. “The app also captures data that contains acceleration, braking, cornering and speeding, giving parents the opportunity to discuss their teen’s results with them and encourage safer driving habits.”

Eventually, Davis expects distracted driving to become a factor in rating and underwriting. “Since distracted driving drives losses, that would make sense,” he says. “We view tracking distracted driving behavior in the same vein of using telematics to track your miles driven and other characteristics—not as a one-way ticket for rate increases. For drivers that elect to share their information, we expect to offer opportunities to save more money based on good, safe driving behavior.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is former IA senior editor.