7 trends to consider during Distracted Driving Awareness Month
By Ryan McMahon, CMT’s VP of Strategy
This article first appeared on Digital Insurance.
It’s April. Distracted driving awareness month.
You’ve likely seen a lot of data about the state of distracted driving.
But, what do you actually need to know?
Earlier this month, Cambridge Mobile Telematics published its 2022 Distracted Driving Report. Many of the trends are troubling. Dangerous behaviors like distracted driving have increased during the pandemic.
But it isn’t all bad news. CMT research has also shown that the right type of insurance telematics programs can help maintain and even improve safe driving behaviors, which we’ll cover in trend seven below. As carriers scale their telematics programs to their core app and make them continuous, the opportunity to reduce distracted driving is higher than ever.
Trend 1: Distracted driving is at its highest point of the pandemic.
Bad news first. Distracted driving — drivers focused on their phones instead of the road — is at its highest point of the pandemic. In February 2022, drivers were distracted for one minute and 38 seconds of every hour on the road. For context, when the pandemic began, distracted driving skyrocketed. Distraction jumped 18 percent from March 2020 to April 2020, reaching one minute and 34 seconds. Distracted driving in February 2022 was 30 percent higher than in February 2020, the last full month before the pandemic.
How much more dangerous were the roads in February 2020? For context, CMT data shows that if a driver has a 10 percent increase in distraction their chance of crashing can increase by one percent.
Trend 2: COVID-19 has flattened distraction seasonality.
Like many behaviors, distracted driving is seasonal. It rises in the summer and drops in the winter. The theories behind why distraction rises in the summer are that there are more teen drivers on the road, more families traveling for summer vacation, and the weather is generally better, so drivers feel like they need to focus less on the road. In 2019 and 2020, this cycle of seasonal distraction was present. In 2019, distraction increased nine percent in the summer. In 2020, it rose 11 percent. In 2021, it essentially stayed flat with a nominal 0.6 percent increase. With COVID-19, distraction is high year-round.
Trend 3: Nighttime driving has gotten more dangerous
COVID-19 has increased distracted driving at every moment of the day. However, it’s impacted nighttime driving the most. The evening hours, from 6 through 11 p.m., have seen an increase in distraction by 35 percent, reaching one minute and 56 seconds for every hour of driving. The late-night hours, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., jumped 40 percent, with drivers interacting with their phones for one minute and 29 seconds of every hour on the road.
These increases in distraction significantly impact crash risk. CMT research has found that the 10 percent of most distracted drivers have an insurance loss frequency of 2.2 times the 10 percent of least-distracted drivers. In 2019, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 13 percent of all fatal crashes involved phone distraction.
Trend 4: Variants impact driving behaviors
At the beginning of the pandemic, with the nation in shock and lockdowns spreading across the country, driving trips plummeted, dropping 60 percent. But, as the pandemic wore on and people gradually returned to work, driving time somewhat normalized. From April 2021 through November 2021, drivers spent about 70 minutes a day behind the wheels, similar to pre-pandemic levels. The Delta and Omicron variants changed these driving behaviors. In July and August of 2021, Delta reduced driving time by four percent. In December and January, when the Omicron variant infected about 45 percent of the U.S. population, driving time reduced to 62 minutes a day, nine percent below pre-pandemic levels.
Trend 5: Expect more speeding
As with other trends we’ve seen with the pandemic, the change in speeding was the most severe at the beginning of the pandemic. Time spent speeding surged 65 percent from March 2020 to April 2020. It peaked in December 2020, reaching two minutes and 50 seconds of every driving hour. But, as traffic filled the roads again, speeding began to drop. It reached a new normal in February 2021, fluctuating around pre-pandemic levels for a number of months. By December, however, with the spread of the Omicron variant, speeding increased again. With more open roads during the Omicron wave, speeding was 13 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels.
The increase in speeding has been deadly. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says road deaths rise over eight percent for every five mph increase in speed limit. Unfortunately, we saw the results of this behavior — traffic fatalities surged 18 percent in the first half of 2021, the highest six-month increase ever recorded.
Trend 6: Awareness can improve driving behaviors
Now the good news. Simply making drivers aware of their behaviors can change them. In a study across tens of thousands of drivers, CMT found that feedback on distracted driving was able to impact distracted driving behaviors. CMT studied drivers who didn’t know their levels of distracted driving and compared them against drivers who did know their distracted driving score. The drivers who were unaware of their distraction level were 25 percent more distracted.
Trend 7: Insurers have the tools to reduce driving risk
COVID-19 is a severe example of driver risk volatility on the road. However, even without COVID-19, driving behavior fluctuates throughout the year — the notion of a good driver and bad driver is too limited. Smartphones have changed this significantly. Drivers who are safe on one trip quickly can become dangerous when they pick up their phone. And, it’s not always the same driver. About 33 percent of drivers become more dangerous over time.
Insurers have the tools to help drivers maintain safe driving habits. Long-term rewards programs, where drivers win prizes on a weekly or monthly basis, are powerful tools that engage drivers and keep them safe. A study conducted by CMT found that drivers who engaged in a rewards program were 28 percent more likely to remain in the safe driving range than drivers who didn’t.
CMT research also shows that highly engaged drivers with a telematics program are 65 percent safer across all risk events than drivers who aren’t engaged. For this study, engaged drivers interacted with their insurer’s telematics app at least three times a week. This could be to check on their score, review their rewards status, and more. Engaged drivers are also 50 percent less distracted than unengaged drivers.
Cautious hope for the future
The first 5 trends may leave you with a sense that the problem of distracted driving is insurmountable, especially while the pandemic drags on. Make no mistake — these challenges are real. However, the impact of telematics programs that consistently engage drivers should provide us all with hope for the future. The Federal Highway Administration has reported reductions in distraction by 47 percent and speeding by 35 percent through Safest Driver Contests, where drivers compete for the title of safest driver in a city and a large cash prize. Consistent and continuous feedback and incentives drive real behavior change. These improvements save lives.
The insurance industry may have invested the most money to date in reducing distracted driving by providing massive discounts for drivers who are shown to exhibit safe behaviors. As this trend continues and carriers invest more in their telematics programs by scaling them to more drivers, layering in multiple strategies to reduce risk, they have a real opportunity to create safer drivers and safer roads. When you combine these technology-driven efforts with those of safe driving advocates and make real progress with hands-free legislation across the country, we have real reasons to hope for safer roads in the future.