How a Mobile Device Can Reduce Distracted Driving

Opinion

Distracted driving is a major problem. In 2014, more than 30,000 people were killed and more than 430,000 injured in car crashes involving distracted drivers. Ironically, it may just be that the root of the problem – a smartphone – could actually be the solution.

People know they shouldn’t, but they do.
In a survey conducted by AT&T, 49 percent of drivers admitted they text and drive, even though 98 percent of them know it’s a bad idea. And the actual number may be higher, as most studies rely on self-reporting, in which respondents are more likely to downplay their own distracted driving tendencies. In fact, at any given moment, 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Distracted driving stats are much higher than previously reported.
The truth behind distracted driving is shocking. Examining smartphone data collected from thousands of trips made by drivers using our smartphone-based app that tracks distracted driving, we found that the numbers of distracted drivers are in fact much higher than previously reported. About 85 percent of the drivers used the phone while driving, more than twice the self-reported 42.3 percent statistic in a AAA study. In addition, we found that drivers texted or used an app 16 percent of the time during their commute, which equates to about 20 million hours of distracted driving per day.

Accidents from distracted driving not only take a human toll, but also an economic one. Earlier this year, Warren Buffett told CNBC that profit at Geico was down $460 million from 2014’s $1.6 billion. What was behind the drop in profits? Increased losses from accidents stemming from distracted driving. Buffett has forecasted an increase in insurance premiums for consumers in the coming years. But that may not be enough to reduce instances of distracted driving. Why?

We all think we are great drivers and accidents are things that happen to other people. Reading Jane’s text wasn’t really distracted driving, I just needed to confirm where we are meeting for lunch. I’m just checking the map on my phone. I’m just trying to find a song I like. These activities seem harmless, but they are all distracted driving behaviors, and we do them all the time.

In fact, we convince ourselves that there are times when it’s safer to divert our focus. One of the other insights we gleaned from data is that phone use increases as people slow down to stop at a light or approach an intersection. Phone use jumps to 25 percent at slower speeds, and goes as high as 31 percent when at a complete stop. Makes sense – we think phone use is less risky if we’re going slowly. But, there is a problem with this: the high frequency of pedestrians at stoplights (who themselves are increasingly distracted – New Jersey is actually proposing a bill to stop distracted walking) increases the potential for harm.

The Answer is in Awareness
How can we become better drivers if we believe we’re already great at it? And even worse, great at multitasking! Well, turns out that the very same device that causes us to be distracted can also help us become better drivers (without ever engaging with it).

Through the use of smartphone-based apps that track, analyze, and report driver behavior, drivers can for the first time get an accurate assessment of their driving behavior and how to reduce preventable risk. In much the same way that wearable fitness trackers give consumers accurate information about their health, smartphone-based apps give drivers accurate information about their behavior behind the wheel.

April was distracted driving month: there is no better time to inspire self-awareness. The data we have collected thus far has shed a chilling light on the reality of how insidious distracted driving is and how little that pervasiveness is acknowledged by those who engage in it.

This is the perfect time for all of us to challenge ourselves to become safer drivers. Did you check that text from Jane? Did you call Mark on your way home from work? The solution is simple – leave the phone in your bag, briefcase, or backpack, out of sight – and out of mind. #justdrive

Vance Loiselle is CEO of TrueMotion, a technology company that uses cloud software, data science, and mobile technology to make driving safer and more affordable. Follow @vanceloiselle

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