Report Urges Insurers to Monitor Drivers’ Mobile Device Use

The increasing use of “usage-based” auto insurance programs is enabling coverage providers to reward policyholders for low mileage and safe driving habits, but one dangerous behavior—distracted driving—is not being sufficiently monitored, a new report claims.

More than a dozen insurers now offer usage-based programs that can provide discounts to motorists who verify that they drive fewer miles, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And a growing number of carriers offer voluntary services that use telematics to track driver behavior such as speed, hard braking and time of day driven.

Texting while drivingA white paper released this week by Virginia-based ZoomSafer—which sells software that prevents motorists from texting, emailing and browsing while driving and allows for monitoring of mobile device use—says insurers could cut risk further by targeting distracted driving.

“Several leading insurers, including Progressive, Liberty Mutual, Allstate and State Farm, are offering innovative usage-based… products that encourage people to drive less and drive more safely in exchange for reduced premiums,” ZoomSafer CEO Matt Howard said in a news release. “By incorporating cell phone policy technologies into their… offerings, insurers can help prevent distracted driving by providing a direct incentive for people to put the phone down while driving.”

Cell phone use and other forms of distracted driving were to blame for nearly 5,500 deaths and an estimated 448,000 injuries nationwide in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The federal agency has said that the problem of distracted driving—which can also include eating, changing the radio station and other behaviors—is likely underestimated by law enforcement reports.

Motorists who use handheld cell phones are four times as likely as other drivers to be involved in accidents serious enough to cause bodily injury, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Distracted driving can also hit policyholders in the pocketbook, industry experts say. Because a motorist’s driving record is a key factor in setting premiums, having a vehicle crash in your past can make it difficult to qualify for the best priced auto insurance.

ZoomSafer officials say measuring the effect of cell phone use on driving behaviors—and vehicle crashes—is a logical next step for usage-based coverage programs.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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