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Driver Safety

Behavioral psych 101: social media and distracted driving

Katie DeGraaf · May 7, 2019 · 3 min read
How the insurance industry can encourage real change through engagement with distracted drivers.

Originally published on Insurance Innovation Reporter 

Reports from government and industry experts leave no doubt: distracted driving is an epidemic. Risky roadway behaviors like texting behind the wheel take a staggering toll in lives and money. One out of four drivers have suffered an accident due to distracted driving, costing the insurance industry $10 billion annually. What’s driving these trends, and what can the insurance industry do to persuade drivers to put down their phones and focus on the road?

It’s clear that our unshakable attachment to smartphones fuels this behavior. Billions of dollars and millions of hours are devoted to optimizing mobile apps to keep us glued to our devices. For example, Instagram’s notification algorithm was designed to randomly withhold ‘likes’ on posts and deliver them in a larger burst at a later time. Our brains—which release powerful chemicals like dopamine when we experience pleasure – light up and we quickly become addicted to validation delivered by our devices. And that addiction permeates every part of our lives, including time behind the wheel.

Encouraging Real Change Through Engagement

The largest insurers are collaborating with major telecommunications companies on road safety education and awareness campaigns. There is also an effort by the industry to inform local, state and federal agencies as well as schools. Insurers have also promoted road safety apps focused on distracted driving. So, while we are certainly beginning to address the problem, how can we leverage the data and insights to further reduce distracted driving?

The answer is engagement. Through consistent and strategic engagement, we can improve the safety of each customer that we serve. By engaging drivers in the right way and at the right time, we can create real and lasting behavioral change.

Four Ways to Motivate Change

There are four key approaches to meaningfully engage with your customers about their driving behavior:

  • Make it… available: The first step to making drivers aware of risky roadway behavior is through the consistent delivery of timely, relevant information that’s easy to access via a simple, well-designed interface.
  • Make it… personal: It’s important to send drivers carefully curated information, rather than hit them with an avalanche of data. Whether it be the risk levels related to the route of your daily commute or real-time updates on how severe weather impacts local roads, information needs to be relevant to engage your customers.
  • Make it… a habit: The science tells us that in order to make a behavior habitual, it’s all about timing. You need to encourage behavior with a fairly frequent cadence, but not too often or it will lose its importance.
  • Make it… competitive: One of the most promising ways to cut through the noise is to encourage people to compare their driving habits to their peers at work, as well as friends and family.

The Insurance Industry Can be Part of the Change

Distracted driving is causing too many deaths on our roads. While our phones contribute to the problem, they can also help bring it to a halt. By providing relevant mobile insights to drivers we can encourage them to begin to make a series of micro steps towards improving their driving habits.

In the insurance industry, our success is directly related to determining which behaviors are causing accidents and the severity of those events. As an industry we can, and should, contribute to putting the brakes on dangerous behaviors like distracted driving.

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