Many of you may be surprised to learn that I am a “biker babe.” Before you get all excited, I should clarify that the “bike” in question is actually a scooter and as far as me being a “babe”? Well, that ship sailed a long time ago. Maybe “Scooter Senior” would be a better moniker? Anyway, I digress.
I acquired said scooter from my sister to make the short commute from our house to the office. Since it’s been decades since I rode a motorcycle, I re-applied for my motorcycle license and I took a motorcycle safety class to brush up on my skills. Now that I and my scooter are on the streets of Huntington Beach, I’ll share that my primary safety concern has nothing to do with my riding skills but everything to do with other drivers not paying attention.
Most of all, I’m nervous about smartphone devices and driving. Research shows that people who are texting or calling while behind the wheel have “driven” a 15% surge in annual U.S. traffic fatalities from 2014 to 2016—the last year we have these statistics. People who use cellphones at the wheel now have an average of 20% more insurance claims than others in the total risk pool.
And here’s the kicker: despite more laws and more awareness, each year, more people are using their phones while driving than did the previous year.
How do we know this? A company called Zendrive collects usage data from tens of millions of cellphones, in part by using Facebook’s mobile app and in part with its own monitoring technology installed on 60 million phones. A rival company called TrueMotion is tracking driving distraction for eight of the top 20 U.S. auto insurers, who will provide a discount on insurance to drivers who voluntarily download the TrueMotion system on their phones. Cambridge Mobile Telematics, another rival, now monitors distracted driving for 35 insurers, using a small tracking device.
When Zendrive asked to self-rate themselves for awareness, some of the most distracted drivers (those who pick up their mobile devices most often while behind the wheel) nevertheless gave themselves high marks for paying attention. Roughly one-third of the worst multitaskers considered themselves “extremely safe.” The company’s research found that distracted driving worsened in all but four states in the past year, with the worst offenders living in Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Washington and Florida.
What to do? The various competing monitoring systems have found that simple awareness may be an effective antidote. Cambridge Mobile found that distraction levels drop by 35% among participants who check their data on the smart app they provide. Meanwhile, insurance companies are better able to identify chronically-distracted drivers and price in the risk they pose as it turns out that distracted driving is more predictive of an eventual accident than any other behavior, including speeding. The threat of higher insurance rates may also become a motivator to better driving behavior.
Whether motivated by higher self-awareness, higher wallet-awareness, or another source of inspiration, I implore you to put that phone down and give Scooter Senior a fighting chance!