Distracted Driving: Turn Smartphone Bad into Good with Telematics

telematicsDistracted driving is a well-documented problem. In fact, it’s the most prevalent reason that drivers crash. The 100 Car Naturalistic Driving Study (which was the first large-scale study to collect pre-crash and near-crash data) found that 80 percent of crashes studied involved an inattentive driver.

Today, with smartphone ownership reaching saturation, perhaps it’s no surprise that the problem has gotten worse. “It’s interesting to observe how the number and types of distractions available on cell phones have grown over the years,” said Chris Mullen, director of technology research at State Farm.

On that note, an annual State Farm survey just released some alarming findings on drivers’ use of hand-held phones. While the percentage of those who talk on the phone while driving has gone down (from 65 percent in 2009 to 51 percent last year), texting has held steady (31 to 36 percent), and surfing the web has more than doubled (from 13 percent to 29 percent).

As smartphone-related distractions continue to increase and new, potentially-dangerous behaviors keep emerging, it’s imperative to find a way to fight the distraction trend. Yet according to drivers surveyed, most of the consequences that could make them change their behavior are things we all want to avoid: collisions, financial penalties and legal consequences.

It turns out the source of distraction may contain the cure. When smartphones are used for insurance telematics, they become a powerful tool to work against the distraction temptation. We’re referring to driver coaching: here’s why it works.

1. Creating accountability is a powerful way to change behavior.

A smartphone app can detect signs of distraction (for example, higher-than-average braking per 100 miles) and send drivers feedback. Changing one’s behavior is much easier when you know that someone (in this case, your smartphone) is creating accountability.

2. Immediate feedback makes learning easier.

It’s called trial-and-error learning, and according to numerous studies, the sooner the feedback comes, the better. “When people are trying to learn new skills, they must get some information that tells them whether or not they are doing the right thing,” said Professor James Pennebaker of UT Austin. Driver coaching apps can provide feedback at the end of each trip.

3. Rules become fun when you turn them into a game.

“To put it simply, gamification incorporates fun and an element of competition,” said Kristen Matthews, marketing and community manager at GroupHigh. While she was referring to gamification in marketing, the same principle holds true for driver coaching. Rules are dull, but challenges? Those are exciting.

4. Keeping score makes self-improvement addictive.

A 2014 study found that 90 percent of drivers using insurance telematics engaged with driver behavior feedback, checking their feedback 14 times a month on average. In the same study, the crash rate among young drivers who adopted telematics dropped from one in five, to one in eight.

5. Driver coaching allows you to build in rewards.

Customers who don’t drive distracted should reap the benefits. Incentivize attentiveness with encouraging smartphone messages and a better driver scores for real-time payoff. If desired, you could also sweeten the deal with a premium discount.

According to State Farm, 30 percent of drivers surveyed want to drive safely and be a role model for others. Smartphone driver coaching can appeal to that motivation and help them achieve it. For the insurer, that translates to a lower claims volume as well as a stronger customer relationship - while making roads safer at the same time.

Learn more about how smartphone telematics works for drivers and download our “Survive and Thrive” report to learn how it helps insurers grow sales and increase safety.

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