Category Archives: Highway Safety

Online Promotion
of Car-Theft Techniques
Adds to Upward Pressure on Insurance Premiums

Three anti-crime organizations have asked YouTube to take down all videos that teach people how to steal Kia and Hyundai automobiles. The organizations – the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, and the International Association of Special Investigation Units (IASIU) – made their request in response to a spike in thefts of these vehicles.

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) late last year reported that bargain-priced Kia and Hyundai vehicles were being targeted for theft at rates similar to muscle cars and SUVs, based on an analysis of 2021 insurance claims. The spike is due, in part, to the fact that the models being stolen don’t have electronic immoblizers that stop thieves from bypassing the ignition.

Some thieves have even made instructional videos – shared on platforms like YouTube and TikTok – on how to perform the theft procedure using just a screwdriver and a USB cable. Since these videos started appearing on social media, police departments across the U.S. have reported drastic increases in Kia and Hyundai thefts.

In Chicago, for example, where only 328 Kias were stolen in 2021, more than 3,500 were stolen last year, CBS Chicago reported.

“Everyday consumers are being victimized by criminals using social media platforms to learn their newest illegal tricks and techniques,” said David Glawe, president and CEO of the NICB. “Some platforms are not doing enough to protect innocent victims from unnecessary harm.”

Celeste Dodson, president of IASIU, added, “When a vehicle is stolen, it is often not the end of the crime but the beginning. Vehicle thefts are associated with a multitude of criminal activity, including insurance fraud. The cost of these crimes is then passed on to consumers through higher premiums.”

Private-passenger auto insurance premium rates are experiencing upward pressure due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Rising insurer losses due to increasing accident frequency and severity;
  • More fatalities and injuries on the road, leading to increased attorney involvement in claims;
  • Continuing supply-chain issues, leading to rising costs for cars, replacement parts, and labor; and
  • More costly auto repairs due to safer, more technologically sophisticated vehicles.

Thefts of vehicles or components like catalytic converters only increase that pressure to raise rates.

The only way to turn that pressure down is to reduce claims and losses by reducing accidents and thefts. Making it harder for people to learn how to break the law and cause damage by watching online videos would be a small but needed step in that direction.   

“A.I. Take the Wheel!” Drivers Put Too Much Faith in Assist Features, IIHS Survey Suggests

Too many car owners are too comfortable leaving their vehicles’ driver-assist features in charge, potentially putting themselves and others at risk, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

IIHS said a survey of about 600 regular users of General Motors Super Cruise, Nissan/Infiniti ProPILOT Assist, and Tesla Autopilot found they were “more likely to perform non-driving-related activities like eating or texting while using their partial automation systems than while driving unassisted.”

“The big-picture message here is that the early adopters of these systems still have a poor understanding of the technology’s limits,” said IIHS President David Harkey.

The study reports that 53 percent of Super Cruise users, 42 percent of Tesla Autopilot users, and 12 percent of Nissan’s ProPilot Assist users were comfortable letting the system drive without watching what was happening on the road. Some even described being comfortable letting the vehicle drive during inclement weather.

These systems combine adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems, primarily to keep a car in a lane and following traffic on the highway. All require an attentive human driver to monitor the road and take full control when called for.

“None of the current systems is designed to replace a human driver or to make it safe for a driver to perform other activities that take their focus away from the road,” IIHS said in announcing the results of its survey.

While all three automakers caution drivers about the systems’ limits, confusion remains. Tesla’s driver-assist system, which it calls “full self-driving” has received much scrutiny over the years as auto safety experts say the name is misleading and risks worsening road safety.

The U.S.government has set no standards for these features, which are some of the newest technologies on vehicles today. A patchwork of state laws and voluntary federal guidelines is attempting to cover the testing and eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles in the United States. 

Learn More:

Background on: Self-driving cars and insurance

IRC Releases State
Auto Insurance
Affordability Rankings

Louisiana, Florida, and Michigan are the three least affordable states for personal auto insurance, according to a new report by the Insurance Research Council (IRC). The three most affordable states, IRC finds, are Hawaii, New Hampshire, and North Dakota.

The state-by-state affordability rankings by IRC – like Triple-I, an affiliate of The Institutes – are based on insurance expenditures as a share of median household income. The report draws on data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), which are only available up to 2019 and, therefore, don’t reflect more recent circumstances, such as the pandemic and the inflationary impact of supply-chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine.

Before these events, auto insurance nationwide had been becoming more affordable since the 1990s, when premiums as a percentage of median household income averaged 1.9 percent.  By the 2010s, it had decreased to 1.6 percent, and, in 2019, that figure stood at 1.56 percent.

During this 30-year period, median household income grew 2.9 percent annually.

Affordability varies dramatically by state, with Hawaii coming in as the most affordable, with expenditures standing at 0.95 percent of income. The least affordable state is Louisiana, with the average expenditure-to-income ratio more than three times higher, at 3.01 percent.

The report notes that attempts to reduce these costs must focus on key cost drivers, including accident frequency, repair costs, injury claim relative frequency, injury claim severity, medical utilization, attorney involvement, claim abuse, uninsured motorists, and litigation climate.

Looking ahead

Pandemic and post-pandemic riskiness of U.S. highways could also impact future affordability trends.  After decades of decline, U.S. traffic deaths have increased in the past several years due to more speeding, driving under the influence, and not wearing seat belts during the pandemic. In 2021, U.S. traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high, with nearly 43,000 deaths. 

“When everyday life came to a halt in March 2020, risky behaviors skyrocketed and traffic fatalities spiked,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator Steven Cliff.  “We’d hoped these trends were limited to 2020, but, sadly, they aren’t.”

In 2022, NHTSA estimates, 9,560 people died in motor vehicle crashes between January and March, up 7 percent from the same period in 2021, making it the deadliest first quarter since 2002. 

The IRC report highlights the role of attorney involvement in driving up insurer expenses – and, ultimately, policyholder premiums – in states where auto coverage is least affordable. As attorney involvement tends to be more prevalent in bodily injury claims cases, the NHTSA numbers are important for understanding anticipated upward pressure on premium rates.

All these factors contribute to increased frequency and severity of claims and, ultimately, higher premiums as insurers seek to maintain required levels of surplus to ensure their ability to keep their promises to policyholders. 

Cellphone Bans Cut Crashes; Telematics
Can Help Reduce
Distracted Driving

Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

State prohibitions on cellphone use while driving correlate with reduced crash rates, according to recent research by the Insurance Institute for High Safety (IIHS). However, overall results were mixed among the states studied, with different legal language, degrees of enforcement, and penalty severity, providing possible explanations for the differing outcomes.

The study observed crash rate changes in California, Oregon, and Washington after legislation to prevent cellphone calls and texting while driving was enacted in 2017, with the research looking at overall numbers from 2015 to 2019. These numbers were compared to control states Idaho and Colorado.

Notably, the study found:

  • A 7.6 percent reduction in the rate of monthly rear-end crashes of all severities relative to the rates in the control states;
  • Law changes in Oregon and Washington were associated with significant reductions of 8.8 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively;
  • California did not experience changes in rear-end crash rates of all severities or with injuries associated with the strengthened law.

Still, state governments face several hurdles in their efforts to prevent crashes caused by cellphone use.

“Technology is moving much faster than the laws,” said Ian Reagan, a senior research scientist at IIHS. “Our findings suggest that other states could benefit from adopting broader laws against cellphone use while driving, but more research is needed to determine the combination of wording and penalties that is most effective.”

Distracted driving remains a major issue

Distracted driving remains a significant problem on roads nationwide. Indeed, distracted driving increased more than 30 percent from February 2020 to February 2022, due largely to changes in driving patterns spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, according to research by telematics service provider Cambridge Mobile Telematics.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reported that more than 3,100 people died in distraction-related accidents in 2020, with an estimated 400,000 people injured each year in such crashes. The true numbers, according to the study, are likely higher due to underreporting. The report also found that cell dial, cell text, and cell-browse were among the most prevalent and highest-risk behaviors.

Telematics can help

Telematics, which uses mobile technology to track driver behavior and provide financial incentives to drive less and often and more carefully, can help reduce dangerous driving. The more consumers positively react to the incentive, the less they pay for their insurance.

Research from the Insurance Research Council – like Triple-I, a nonprofit affiliate of The Institutes, focused on this exact issue, studying public perception and use of telematics. The study found that 45 percent of drivers surveyed said they made significant safety-related changes in the way they drove after participating in a telematics program. Another 35 percent said they made small changes in the way they drive.

During the pandemic, insurance consumers’ comfort with the idea of letting their driving be monitored in exchange for a better premium appeared to improve. In May 2019, mobility data and analytics firm Arity surveyed 875 licensed drivers over the age of 18 to find out how comfortable they would be having their premiums adjusted based on telematics variables. Between 30 and 40 percent said they would be either very or extremely comfortable sharing this data. In May 2020, they ran the survey again with more than 1,000 licensed drivers.

“This time,” Arity said, “about 50 percent of drivers were comfortable with having their insurance priced based on the number of miles they drive, where they drive, and what time of day they drive, as well as distracted driving and speeding.”

Pot Legalization Link
To Car Crashes Varies
by State, Study Finds

Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Recreational marijuana use is associated with automobile crash trends, according to a paper published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. However, the study also noted that retail marijuana sales aren’t solely responsible for the general rise in accidents.

Legalization of recreational marijuana use was correlated to a 6.5 percent growth in the rate of crashes involving injuries and a 2.3 percent rise in those involving fatalities. With legalization and retail sales, the study found that the total impact was a 5.8 percent rise in injury crash rates and a 4.1 percent increase in fatal crash rates.

But these results were inconsistent across states, with the effects on injury crash rates varying from a 7 percent decrease to an 18 percent rise and fatal crash rates ranging from a 4 percent increase to a 10 percent decline. Colorado experienced the biggest rise in injury crash rates after legalization and retail sales, coming in at 17.8 percent. Nevada experienced the largest decline in fatal crashes, at 9.8 percent.

“Legalization removes the stigma of marijuana use, while the onset of retail sales merely increases access,” said lead researcher Charles M. Farmer of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “But access to marijuana isn’t difficult, even in places without retail sales. Users who previously avoided driving high may feel that it’s okay after legalization.”

Farmer added, “Studies looking for a direct causal link between marijuana use and crash risk have been inconclusive.” Unlike with alcohol, no objective measure yet exists for how impaired a marijuana user has become.

As Triple-I notes, most studies find that marijuana use results in impaired coordination, memory, associative learning, attention, cognitive flexibility, and reaction time. Although it is clear from this research that driving ability is diminished, the extent of impairment continues to be studied.

Younger drivers are at higher risk of traffic accidents than older drivers, with younger male drivers at high risk. Early evidence indicates that younger male drivers are most likely to drive under the influence of marijuana.

Another study, in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, suggests chronic, heavy use of recreational marijuana impairs driving skills, even when the driver is not high, with those who started regularly using marijuana before 16 years old showing the worst results.

These results demonstrate that the effects of marijuana vary widely across demographic groups, making it all the more important for everyone to be cautious when using the drug.

Distracted Driving Surges Since Start of Pandemic

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Distracted driving in the United States has risen more than 30 percent from February 2020 to February 2022, as the coronavirus pandemic has upended driving patterns, according to a recent report by telematics service provider Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT). This comes despite improvements in other dangerous behaviors, like speeding, which has declined as traffic returned since the early phases of the pandemic.

Drivers in January 2022 averaged 1:35 seconds of distraction per hour, a high for the past three years. Additionally, in February 2022, this figure increased to 1:38 seconds – a 25.5 percent increase from February 2019, and a 30.3 percent rise from February 2020, which was the last month of pre-pandemic driving.

Additionally, evening and late-night distracted driving has dramatically increased compared to pre-pandemic levels, with evening distraction ballooning to almost 35 percent from February 2020 to April 2020. Late-night distraction has become even worse, with 40 percent of drivers in the same period. This trend has remained high, with the average time distracted standing at 1:29 seconds per hour by February 2022 for late-night driving.

The U.S. government takes notice

Recently, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report detailing data limits and other barriers to limiting distracted driving. The report found that approximately 3,142 people died in distraction-related accidents in 2020, with an estimated 400,000 people injured each year in such crashes. The true numbers, according to the study, are likely higher due to underreporting.

The GHSA report also notes that the most prevalent and highest-risk behaviors include:

  • Cell dial;
  • Cell text;
  • Reaching for an object;
  • Cell-browse and;
  • In-vehicle device.

A total of 15 percent of police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes recorded distraction as a factor, according to national crash data, with drivers aged 15 to 20 years at the highest risk for distracted driving in a fatal crash.

This comes despite 80 percent of drivers stating that talking on a hand-held cell phone is extremely or very dangerous. However, 37 percent admit to doing this. Almost all drivers (95 percent) said reading or typing a text or email on a hand-held cell phone while driving is extremely or very dangerous. However, 23 percent reported typing or sending a text or email on a hand-held cell phone at least once in the past 30 days, with 34 percent stating that they read on a hand-held device while driving.

Can telematics help?

A 2020 study by Triple-I’s sister organization the Insurance Research Council (IRC) focused on public perception and use of telematics, which can be used to lower the cost of insurance for responsible drivers.

Indeed, 45 percent of drivers surveyed said they made significant safety-related changes in the way they drove after participating in a telematics program. An additional 35 percent said they made small changes in the way they drive.

And although many individuals who made small or significant changes ultimately return to previous driving habits, one in four participants reported that they consider the changes made to be permanent, with an additional 19 percent saying they engaged in previous driving habits only rarely.

These kinds of shifts in behavior hold promise not only for the future of telematics, but for safer roadways with significantly fewer accidents.

Reducing Traffic Fatalities and Injuries Through Vision Zero

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Local governments in the United States in recent years have begun adopting “Vision Zero” policies, which aim at cutting roadway fatalities to zero. Such policies – which have demonstrated success abroad – have drawn even more interest since the onset of the pandemic, during which traffic fatalities and injuries have surged.

The Vision Zero Network is a nonprofit focused on helping local governments implement the Vision Zero plan. First implemented in Sweden in 1997, that country has seen its traffic fatalities halved, inspiring other governments to adopt similar measures. Vision Zero is also becoming an initiative for the entire European Union.

More than 40 communities across the United States have adopted these policies, including major metropolitan areas like New York City, Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore. In Portland, several data points are helping government officials better understand how to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries, including a high percentage of pedestrian crashes occurring because of long distances between marked crossings. Portland has taken the initiative, building “a system to protect pedestrians includes frequent safe crossings, street lighting, a cultural acceptance of slower speeds and people educated about how to interact safely on the streets.”

Success in Hoboken, NJ

Hoboken, a city of about 54,000 people across the Hudson River from New York City, has experienced zero traffic deaths for three years as of 2021. Instrumental in this has been Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s Vision Zero program. Mayor Bhalla’s 2019 executive order has resulted in the city extending its bike-lane network 38 percent in 2019 and 2020, with its total on-street network of 16.3 miles now nearly half of the city’s 33 miles of streets.

The city also has put in curb extensions at intersections, marked wider crosswalks, and timed traffic signals to give pedestrians a seven-second head start. When it’s warmer, major commercial areas of the city are closed to cars entirely or assigned as “slow streets” with decreased traffic and velocities.

“While we’ve made major progress in the past three years, having no pedestrian fatalities and a reduction in pedestrian injuries, we are striving to create even safer streets in the years ahead,” said Mayor Bhalla. “With the adoption of the Vision Zero Action Plan, we’ll be able to take even more actionable steps to reach our goal of all traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2030, one of the most ambitious Vision Zero goals in the entire country.” 

With these steps being implemented nationwide, entire communities are becoming safer. Additionally, insurers could potentially pass the savings produced by lower accident rates onto consumers, as they did earlier in the pandemic.

Now the U.S. federal government has announced its own version of Vision Zero. In late January, federal transportation officials released a plan to reduce the tens of thousands of road deaths that occur every year.

Truckers’ Premiums
Keep Rising, Despite
Safety Improvements, Coverage Changes

As with so many other goods and services, insurance for commercial trucks has become more costly since the pandemic – but a closer look at the numbers shows that this trend pre-dates COVID-19’s economic and supply-chain disruption.

“Despite reductions in insurance coverage, rising deductibles, and improved safety, almost all motor carriers experienced substantial increases in insurance costs from 2018 to 2020,” according to a recent report by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). And, while frequency and severity have been on the rise from 2009 to 2018, the report shows the rate of insurance cost increases during the period far exceeding the crash rate increase.

ATRI’s observations are consistent with findings in a recent study by Triple-I and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) that the phenomenon known as “social inflation” accounted for $20 billion in commercial auto liability claims between 2010 and 2019. 

“External factors that go well beyond carrier safety force commercial trucking insurance costs to increase,” says Triple-I Chief Insurance Officer Dale Porfilio. “The higher premiums ultimately tend to be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for goods and services.”

ATRI recognizes three key areas of influence on premiums beyond crash history and policy components:

  • Economic impacts on the insurance industry,
  • Carrier-specific factors, and
  • Social inflation.

External economic conditions, including general inflation and rising health-care costs, contribute to increased insurance premium rates.

“Medical advances help save lives, but these treatments directly contribute to higher medical costs,” ATRI points out. “Similarly, technological advances in motor vehicles contribute to increasing costs associated with repairing them; electronics now make up 40 percent of the cost of a new vehicle.”

These higher costs affect premiums through larger claims and losses that have to be incorporated into pricing.

Premium rates also are affected by carrier-specific considerations like operational sectors, cargo values, states or regions of operation, company growth, and commitment to safety culture and technologies.

“Carriers demonstrating consistent year-over-year improvements in safety technology adoption, safe driver hiring and training practices, and crash history can potentially lower their premium costs, despite the current adverse environment,” ATRI said.

“Social inflation” refers to the impact of litigation and government policy trends on insurance claims and, ultimately, costs to policyholders. Social attitudes and behaviors affect insurance payouts through changes in laws and propensity to litigate, and jury awards don’t necessarily reflect logical conclusions or precedents. Jury decisions can be influenced by emotions, state and local laws or procedures, and plaintiff bar tactics. In recent years, practices like third-party litigation funding – investment by hedge funds and other third parties in lawsuits in return for a share in the awards – have played an increasing role in social inflation.

Acting to Curb Rising Auto Fatalities

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

After years of steady declines, traffic fatalities in the United States are on the rise, contributing to increasing auto insurance rates. This comes despite declines in the average number of miles driven due to the pandemic. In 2020, 38,680 deaths occurred on U.S. roads, the most since 2007.

In late January, federal transportation officials released a plan to reduce the tens of thousands of road deaths that occur every year, an issue that has become more significant since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “No one will accomplish this alone. It will take all levels of government, industries, advocates, engineers and communities across the country working together toward the day when family members no longer have to say good-bye to loved ones because of a traffic crash.”

Pandemic’s impact

Roadway safety in the United States had increased for decades before the pandemic, primarily due to enforcement of seat belt laws and vehicle safety features, such as airbags, improved braking, and stability control. Yet, the first year of the pandemic saw a 7.2 percent rise in U.S. roadway deaths from 2019. Some experts saw this rise in reckless driving as due, in part, to the isolation associated with the pandemic lockdowns. 

“You’ve been cooped up, locked down, and have restrictions you chafe at,” said Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia.

In the early months of the COVID pandemic, insurers were giving rebates for personal auto policies, spurred by reductions in miles driven and anticipation of fewer accidents. However, it quickly became clear that reduced miles driven didn’t automatically lead to fewer deadly accidents. Instead, reckless driving – and fatalities – increased.

The end of pandemic shutdowns hasn’t helped either, with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimating that 31,720 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes for the first nine months of 2021, rising about 12 percent from the 28,325 fatalities projected for the first nine months of 2020. In Q1 of 2020, traffic fatalities were 1.12 per 100 million miles driven. By the end of Q3 of 2021, this number had spiked to 1.41 per 100 million miles driven.

What can be done?

The federal infrastructure deal promises to spend more on new safety measures, with the goal of eliminating road deaths. With this in mind, the Department of Transportation is implementing a Safe System Approach, under the premise that fatal accidents can be avoided if individuals understand the need for safe driving and accept that crashes can be avoided. The aim is zero traffic deaths.

Indeed, the Safe System Approach, which has been adopted across several countries in Europe, has seen remarkably positive results. Traffic fatalities fell 50 percent In Sweden and the Netherlands between 1994 and 2015.

“There are communities that have gotten to [zero traffic fatalities] already,” added Buttigieg. “And I’m not just talking about Oslo,” which experienced zero pedestrian deaths in 2019, “but a place like Hoboken, N.J., in the U.S. has seen multiple years with zero deaths.”

Auto insurance premium rates are affected by many factors, and accident and fatality trends are a major ones. Reckless driving trends – combined with increasing auto repair costs associated with safety, efficiency, and comfort – can only continue to put upward pressure on rates. Individual behavior and government policies must converge in the direction of improving responsibility and safety for all drivers.

Studies: Car Crashes Rise as Recreational Cannabis Becomes Legal in States

Connecticut this week became the latest state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and more are expected to follow.

The increased marijuana use that accompanies legalization has raised concerns about road safety.

Researchers at Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) since 2014 have been examining how legalization has affected crash rates and insurance claims, and evidence is emerging that crash rates go up when states legalize recreational use and retail sales of marijuana.

The most recent of these studies, released on June 17 by the IIHS, shows that injury and fatal crash rates in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington jumped in the months following relaxation of marijuana laws in each state. The five states experienced a 6 percent increase in injury crash rates and a 4 percent increase in fatal crash rates, compared with other Western states where recreational marijuana use was illegal during the study period.

Only the increase in injury crash rates was statistically significant.

“Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” says IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey. “That’s obviously something policymakers and safety professionals will need to address as more states move to liberalize their laws — even if the way marijuana affects crash risk for individual drivers remains uncertain.”

Insurance records show a similar increase in claims under collision coverage, which pays for damage to an at-fault, insured driver’s own vehicle, according to HLDI’s latest analysis. The legalization of retail sales in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington was associated with a 4 percent increase in collision claim frequency compared with the other Western states from 2012 to 2019. That’s down slightly from the 6 percent increase HLDI identified in a previous study, which covered 2012  to 2018.

While the evidence that crash rates have increased in states that legalized marijuana is mounting, it appears that further study is needed to determine whether marijuana use alone is responsible. Preliminary data suggests people who use alcohol and marijuana together are accountable for most of the crashes.

Another factor may be that marijuana users in counties that do not allow retail sales are driving to counties that do. The increased travel could lead to more crashes, even if their crash risk per mile traveled is no higher than that of other drivers.