The Insurance Industry’s role in ending distracted driving

In an age where few people agree on anything, one common condition binds us all together: distraction. For better or worse, we are hardwired into the world at large much like a dog might be chained to a pole in a junk yard: exposed to the elements, all the time, whether we like it or not.

As a relatively new phenomenon, the effects of this “always on-ness” on our relationships and personal well-being are still being studied. One area where distraction has firmly established itself as a deadly new constant, however, is behind the wheel.

According to the Canadian Safety Council, 26 per cent of all automobile accidents now involve cellphone use. That is a staggering figure, but one that reveals a mere fragment of the full picture.

“Twenty-six per cent were reported,” says Melissa Logue, National Automobile Underwriting and Product Manager at RSA Canada. “How many were not? And how many accidents were caused by other distractions not involving cell phone use specifically? The problem is understated, and that’s what’s scariest.”

Logue’s questions highlight a major roadblock when it comes to the insurance industry’s role in identifying the impact distracted driving has on claims and using that information to help reduce distracted driving incidents: a lack of actionable data.

“Data collection on distracted drivers and claims associated with distracted driving is a challenge for industry at this time. As an industry, we need to move towards improvement in this area,” she says. Information on distracted driving charges may be found in the police accident reports. Additionally, with the various behaviors that fall under the umbrella of distracted driving – grooming, adjusting the radio, eating, smoking, talking to other passengers – being hard to prove and not necessarily resulting in a charge, just how effective would police data prove in the fight against distracted driving? “We’d still not be capturing all incidents,” Logue says.

Part of the reason distracted driving persists is because many people simply don’t understand all of the behaviors that fall under distracted driving. Many believe it is only cell phone use. Many do not believe that distraction of any kind is an issue for “them.” For some people these distractions are second nature to such an extent that they don’t even realize they are being distracted.  Legislated definitions of distracted driving even vary from province to province.  Logue says the insurance industry can help direct consumers on how best to avoid driving distractedly, but having a national far-reaching and unequivocal definition of just what distracted driving is would go a long way in assisting with this effort (The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety defines distracted driving as: “any activity that can divert attention from the primary task of driving.”)

While the future will bring with it vehicles that have advanced safety features that could help reduce the risk and current outcomes of distracted driving, Logue feels that we need to get serious about the issue now. Along with a stricter definition, provinces need to consider far harsher penalties for those caught breaking the law. Based on recent statistics, current fines aren’t cutting it, nor is the threat of losing coverage.

“How can there be such a large gap between ‘distracted’ driving and ‘impaired’ driving?” Logue wonders. If the results – death, injury and property damage – of the two infractions are the same, why is it that distracted drivers do not face the same penalties as those whose senses are dulled by more conventional intoxicants? Perhaps the laws must change so that the label “distracted driver” carries the same consequences, and stigma, that “drunk driver” carries today.

The public perception of what distracted driving is, and the risks it entails, clearly needs reshaping. This is where Logue feels the industry can step up without waiting for laws to change: education. While efforts are being made – the Insurance Bureau of Canada has branded distracted driving “the new DUI”; TV spots showing the aftermath of a distraction-caused accident aren’t hard to find – there is still a dangerous level of ignorance in the general populace when it comes to distracted driving.

“Lack of awareness in general always leads to carelessness in these kinds of situations,” Logue says, adding that a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Survey found that approximately 30 per cent of drivers under the age of 34 say texting has no impact on their driving ability. This proves the lack of awareness when you consider that taking your eyes off the road for five seconds to check a text, or entertain another distraction, means that you have travelled the length of a football field blindfolded.

It is that kind of absurd thinking the industry must lay to waste. Despite the shrieking obviousness of the facts, drivers who have spent virtually every day of their lives being pulled in 15 different directions by their phones still see them less as an impairment and more as a limb. How do you convince someone not to look away from the road if, when they’re doing so, they can look at everything?

That’s why it’s especially important for brokers to educate their customers on the impact of distracted driving. TruceTO, a new initiative by RSA that stresses the importance of street safety for everyone in light of the rise in road incidents on the streets of Toronto, is one way to help customers understand what more can be done. Visit TruceTO.com/education to learn more.

Source: Insurance Business Canada

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