The distracted driving epidemic: we need to do better
At Arity, we spend our time shaping the future of transportation. My job is dedicated to making mobility smarter, safer and more useful. But often I can’t help thinking about the other, darker side of transportation, one that has taken thousands of lives and threatens to cast a shadow over the future we’re working so diligently toward.
The reality is that America’s roads today are more dangerous than ever. More than 40,000 people were killed in vehicle accidents in 2016 — the highest rate in almost a decade — and this increase has been driven largely by distracted driving. At a time when Americans check their phones every 12 minutes, it’s no surprise that the problem is getting worse. In fact, the National Safety Council has estimated that cell phone use is involved in one out of every four motor vehicle crashes.
We’ve all seen the safety campaigns: dramatic billboards, tearjerker commercials. Laws have been passed to prohibit cell phone use behind the wheel. So why isn’t it working? The truth is, we’re still not doing enough to prevent this lethal issue. Distracted driving is not just a problem that safety organizations and drivers need to solve. It is a city problem, a transportation problem and an insurance problem. Each of these industries has a responsibility to inform and protect drivers. It’s time for us all to be part of the solution.
The Real Cause of Distracted Driving
Part of the problem is that we just aren’t aware of how distracted we are while driving. Most think they are safe drivers (80% are better than average, right?). Light users may not realize how often we’re reaching for it, dismissing or reading a text or changing the navigation. Heavy users may not realize how dangerous it really is to stream Netflix or check Facebook at a stoplight. My daughter, who is a freshman in college, has had a smartphone since she first began driving. Once we started talking about how dangerous cell phone use was behind the wheel, it really shocked her to realize how much her phone actually had an impact on her driving. Since gaining this awareness, she’s become a safe driving advocate herself, telling her friends and classmates about how important it is to unplug while driving.
This is why the first key to changing driver behavior is to provide awareness. Give drivers the facts that are impossible to ignore. This is apparent in the case of speeding, which many people think is a dangerous driving habit. Why? Speedometers. Drivers are continuously reminded of how fast they are driving. There is a number on their dash and speed limit signs on the road. We know if we’re speeding. In order to tackle distracted driving effectively, we need to bring this same level of awareness to cell phone use so that drivers understand their own personal risk. This is where data comes in.
The Solution Lies in Data, Data, Data
Data has already been shown to help change people’s behavior through greater awareness. Look at what happened when FitBit and other step counters became easily accessible through wearable tech and smartphone apps. We suddenly had access to data that showed us how often we were moving each day. It provided awareness that was measurable and individualized. As a result, we started being more active and changed our behavior to meet daily activity goals.
For the first time, a similar tool is available to measure real driving behavior — not just phone handling behavior but it’s impact on driving. Arity’s industry-first driving score now sheds light on how distracted individuals are behind the wheel and just how dangerous this is.
This is truly the future of insurance. Awareness, transparency and control — and that’s great news for drivers. Traditionally, insurers have used various personal information to form an assessment of your risk. Our technology and meaningful insights now helps drivers receive the most accurate insurance pricing. An even greater benefit comes from the incentive this tool creates to drive safely and stay focused on the road.
Make a Difference by Empowering Drivers
The transportation industry must take its role in safety seriously. We have a substantial opportunity to use our direct relationship with drivers to make a difference. By empowering drivers with the tools and the information they need to make smarter, safer driving decisions, we can help keep people safe behind the wheel.
This optimism is what drives me to come to work every day. I do believe that we can alleviate the distracted driving problem and help prevent the numerous deaths it causes each year. This is more than just a job for me, because with the right tools and the necessary data, I can make the roads safer for my daughter.