Mobile Broadband Access and Auto Collision Frequency Uncorrelated, Actuaries Find

Carrier Management
February 22, 2018

Mobile broadband access—used as an indicator of the likelihood that drivers may be using mobile devices while driving—appears to have no impact on collision frequency, according to a recent insurance industry research report.

The Auto Loss Cost Trends Report, a product of research undertaken jointly by The Casualty Actuarial Society, Society of Actuaries and Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, was sparked by an observed increase in the frequency and severity of private passenger auto losses in recent years. After more than 25 years of declining auto crashes, personal auto insurance carriers began to notice an uptick in property damage liability and collision frequency in 2013, the report notes, pointing to popular theories like better safety awareness, technology and enforcement as explanations for the favorable prior trend.

But what explained the reversal?

While mobile device use surprisingly doesn’t appear to be the main driver of several subsequent years of frequency spikes, the research seems to point to a simple explanation: increased road congestion.

Using publicly available data from the Federal Highway Administration, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and other sources, the analysis group searched for explanatory variables among possibilities that included:

  • Percentage of population with access to mobile broadband (variable name: Mobile Broadband Percent).
  • Gas price indicators—specifically, average gas price in dollars divided by average hourly wage in dollars (Gas Price vs. Wage).
  • Total transportation dollars spent on capital projects per vehicle miles traveled (Capital Outlay per VMT).
  • Number of lawyers in the state per one million people (Lawyers per 1 Million Capita).
  • Total DUIs per driver.
  • Ratio of licensed drivers to total lane miles (Drivers per Lane Mile).
  • Average commute time in minutes in urban areas and in rural areas (Urban Average Commute Time, Rural Average Commute Time).
  • Percent of the vehicle miles traveled in an urban area or in a rural area (Urban VMT Percent, Rural VMT Percent).

Searching for relationships between these state-level variables and quarterly claim frequencies also captured by state (from fourth-quarter 2011 through fourth-quarter 2015), the groups found that the variables showing the strongest positive relationships with collision frequency were those related to congestion—Drivers per Lane Mile, Urban and Rural Average Commute Times, Urban VMT.

The weakest variables were Mobile Broadband Percent, Gas Price vs. Wage and Capital Outlay per VMT, with variables measuring unemployment, lawyer concentrations and DUIs falling in the middle of a variable ranking based on importance. In fact, DUIs appear to be negatively correlated with collision frequency, the report notes.

The report suggests, however, that the weak relationship between mobile broadband access and collision frequency isn’t entirely conclusive evidence that distracted driving was not a factor behind upticks in crash rates. Instead, it is “likely [that] we need to find a better proxy for distracted driving” than mobile broadband access, the report states.

Finding another proxy might be a challenge, according to information released separately by Cambridge Mobile Telematics last week. Only 11 states have “mobile-phone distraction” as an accident reporting option for police, and only 27 states can note “distraction” generally, CMT said in an announcement about results of a recent driver survey comparing motorist opinions of DUI and distracted driving.

According to the CMT survey of 700 U.S. drivers, 75 percent said that they see other drivers on phones every single day, and 63 percent are more afraid of distracted drivers than drunk drivers.

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