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How to prevent distracted driving with technology

April 26, 2024

It’s a sobering fact: Nine people die every day in the United States due to distracted drivers.1 The good news is that distracted driving is often preventable. Through client education and promoting the use of existing and emerging technologies, insurance agents can help their clients avoid the tragic impact of distracted driving on daily life.

What is distracted driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as instances where a driver isn’t paying full attention to the road. The loss of mental focus behind the wheel from multitasking, speeding and driving drowsy can all lead to loss of life. In 2021, over 3,500 people were killed and more than 362,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers across the nation. Of those who died, 644 were not in vehicles―they were walking, riding their bikes or otherwise commuting outside a vehicle.2

Types of distracted driving

When it comes to distracted driving, there are four distinct types:

  1. Visual distractions—These types of distractions are those that take a driver’s eyes off the road. Common visual distractions include:
    • Using electronic devices such as a GPS, radio, cellphone or laptop
    • Focusing attention on visual distractions outside the vehicle, such as collisions, police activity, street signs, pedestrians, construction or billboards
  2. Manual (physical) distractions—Any distractions that cause a driver to take their hands off the wheel of a vehicle are physical distractions. Without both hands on the wheel, it’s difficult to control a vehicle. This can also affect a driver’s reaction time, increasing the odds of a crash. Common physical distractions include:
    • Eating and drinking
    • Talking on a hand-held phone
    • Reaching into the passenger seat or back seat to grab an item
  3. Cognitive distractions—Cognitive distractions cause a driver to think about something other than driving. These distractions are especially dangerous, as drivers often have a false sense of security; for example, they may have their hands on the wheel and, therefore, think they aren’t driving distracted. Common cognitive distractions include daydreaming or multitasking.
  4. Auditory distractions—These are any audible distractions that divert a driver’s attention away from the road (e.g., listening to music or talking to passengers).

Distracted driving statistics

Distracted driving is one of the most common and preventable causes of accidents. Here are some notable statistics related to distracted driving:1 2

  • Drivers aged 25 to 34 constituted 21% of individuals involved in fatal accidents. This age group represents 18% of all distracted drivers and 28% of those distracted by cellphones in fatal incidents.
  • Approximately 289,310 distraction-affected injury crashes occurred in 2022, representing 12% of all injury crashes.

Using existing and emerging technology to prevent distracted driving

While most drivers agree that distracted driving is dangerous, that belief isn’t reflected in their behaviors. According to a recent Nationwide survey, 38% of drivers say they are more impatient behind the wheel compared to a year prior. Many admit to eating while driving (56%—a three-point uptick since 2022) or driving more than 10 mph over the speed limit (54%) during the past 12 months. Further, more than 1 in 5 (22%) reported texting while driving or giving obscene gestures to other drivers (21%) during the same period.

These findings highlight drivers’ unsafe habits and emphasize the need for agents to promote ways of curbing driver distractions behind the wheel. While it may seem counterintuitive to use technology to prevent distracted driving, given that it is often a primary cause, there are a number of such solutions available today that can help drivers remain safe on the road.

Mobile solutions

A free and easy-to-implement solution to help drivers reduce distractions comes in the form of built-in driving modes on cellphones. Typically enabled through a phone’s settings, driving modes essentially put a user’s phone on “do not disturb,” silencing incoming phone calls, texts and notifications. Not only is this method of reducing driving distractions simple to use, but it’s also free.

Beyond this built-in solution, Nationwide’s SmartRide mobile app also has a feature that focuses on minimizing phone distractions to help drivers become more aware of their behavior and provides tips to avoid distractions.

Car safety features technology

Automakers and technology companies are developing standard car safety features to reduce injuries and deaths related to distracted driving. Anti-distraction features vary but can include the following:3

  • Lane departure warnings—These warnings provide a visual or audio alert if a vehicle is straying across lane lines when a turn signal isn’t on.
  • Lane-keeping assist—This feature recenters a vehicle in a lane by automatically applying light steering correction.
  • Lockout controls—These partially block on-screen control of keyboard monitors in a vehicle’s dashboard display while a car is in motion.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC)—ESC uses sensors to prevent a vehicle from sliding or skidding, particularly during turns. These sensors monitor things like wheel speed, steering angles and sideways motion, and when potentially harmful driving conditions are detected, ESC automatically adjusts the vehicle’s brakes and engine power.
  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB)—Through radar sensors mounted on the front of a vehicle, AEB systems are designed to detect obstacles, assess whether a collision is likely and apply the vehicle’s brakes as necessary to prevent or lessen the impact of a crash.
  • Driver-monitoring systems (DMS)—DMSs are designed to continuously assess a driver’s alertness and attention level. These systems use a combination of hardware and software components to monitor driver behavior and physiological states in real time and issue warnings as necessary.
  • Infotainment systems—As technology has evolved, infotainment systems have become less reliant on visual/manual controls, which, in turn, can help drivers stay focused on the road. For instance, in certain vehicle models, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay allow drivers to connect their phones and use the vehicle’s built-in microphone and speaker systems to control music and other applications via voice control.
  • Collision avoidance system—Using cameras, GPS, G-force sensors, radar, artificial intelligence and other tools, collision avoidance systems continuously monitor the vehicle’s surroundings. These sensors can detect other vehicles, pedestrians and obstacles. When a potential collision is imminent, the driver is alerted through visual, auditory or tactile (e.g., seat vibrations) warnings. If the driver does not respond quickly enough to the warnings, the system will apply the brakes, provide steering assistance or take similar action to prevent a crash.

Whether or not insureds have anti-distraction safety features in their vehicles, agents should educate customers on the best approach to staying safe on the road. Distractions can cause even the most experienced drivers to make dangerous mistakes, so it’s crucial to stress the importance of removing distractions, observing speed limits, driving unimpaired, and avoiding disabling or overriding car safety technology features in newer vehicles.

Telematics technology

Rising auto insurance premiums place agents in an ideal position to help personal and commercial lines clients save money through telematics. This technology has come a long way in recent years. Available through plugged-in vehicle devices, mobile applications or internet-connected cars, telematics technology collects vehicle data (e.g., location and mileage) and information on driving behavior (e.g., speed, acceleration, idle time and hard braking). It allows agents to improve the customer experience by allowing clients to control their auto premiums based on safe driving behaviors.

Implementing telematics for personal lines clients

Telematics can benefit most personal lines prospects or clients and should be added to quotes and renewals during the sales process. By developing a talk track or sales script that emphasizes the benefits and addresses data-sharing concerns, agency staff can give the client control to choose an option that may reduce their premiums, a high priority for many consumers today.

Protecting insureds through education and technology

Heightened awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and the adoption of vehicle safety technologies can help significantly reduce costly and deadly crashes caused by distracted driving. Educating insureds about the dangers of distracted driving and offering technology solutions that can help save both lives and money puts you in the driver’s seat as a trusted advisor. To learn more about using Nationwide’s driver safety technology solutions for your book of business, visit our telematics solutions hub.