Anatomy of an Auto Accident: How Insurers Can Slash Crash Rates

auto-accidentWhen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration joined forces with Virginia Tech, the Virginia DOT and the Virginia Research Council to figure out why drivers crash, the results came in pretty clear.

This was the first large-scale study conducted with the goal of collecting pre-crash and near-crash data. It followed over 240 drivers of all ages, both male and female, for a year or more. The conditions were normal: no experimenters were present, the driving was general-purpose, no special instructions were given, and the means of data collection was unobtrusive.

In two million miles and more than 42 thousand hours of driving data, there were 82 crashes, 761 near-crashes (“situations requiring a rapid, severe evasive maneuver”) and 8,295 incidents (like a near-crash, but less urgent). As to why these incidents occurred, some very clear patterns emerged.

What do drivers who crash have in common?

  1. They’re not paying attention. Be they fatigued, distracted or simply looking the wrong way at the wrong time, inattentive drivers were involved in 80 percent of the crashes recorded.
  2. They’re young. “The rate of inattention-related crash and near-crash events decreased dramatically with age, with the rate being as much as four times higher for the 18- to 20-year-old age group relative to the other groups (i.e., 35+ years),” the report said.
  3. They’re tired. Fatigue was a factor in 20 percent of all crashes, and in 16 percent of all near-crashes. Those numbers are significant, as most databases name fatigue as the culprit in only 10 percent of the collisions they track.

What about self-driving cars?

Interestingly, autonomous vehicles seem to crash five times more often than regular cars, Fortune said. But it’s not the computer’s fault. The self-driving cars studied didn’t cause any of the crashes – they were, rather, crashed into.

Another interesting point: while passengers in the self-driving cars were four times as likely to get injured, these injuries were less severe than what’s normal for passengers in conventional cars. And there were no fatalities, none.

But let’s not get too excited yet. The cars in question were few in number: Only 50 cars were analyzed. Weigh that against the 269 million regular vehicles on the road, and it’s easy to imagine how that imbalance might skew the results.

How to lower the crash rate?

Whether we’re talking conventional or self-driven cars, human inattention seems to be the problem. Let’s look at how smartphone insurance telematics can potentially address the hazard of inattentiveness in the future.

  • Remind drivers to pay attention. Your smartphone telematics app should be designed to track, evaluate and give safety feedback to the driver if it detects signs of distracted driving.
  • Collect data to help you include distracted driving as part of your rating algorithm. If your app is designed to detect signs of inattentiveness, it’s only a matter of time before you have data on this risk exposure, which could in turn be used to enhance risk selection and pricing.
  • Reward drivers for their attentiveness. Those who drive safely and steadily can be rewarded with a lower premium, encouraging smartphone messages, and a more satisfying driver score.

Want to know more about how Driveway’s insurance telematics app could help your policyholders reduce the frequency of crashes? Request a pilot.

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