Category Archives: Highway Safety

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.

Expect a Memorial Day travel surge

This Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, many are feeling a renewed sense of hope as COVID-19 infection rates fall and vaccinated individuals are given the green light to travel.

Over 37 million Americans are planning trips of more than 50 miles from their homes this weekend, according to AAA, an increase of more than 60 percent from last year, but still 6 million fewer than 2019’s pre-pandemic travelers on the same weekend.

Drivers are reminded to exercise caution on the roads, as Memorial Day has some of the highest auto accident rates, with alcohol consumption as a major contributing factor.

Triple-I recently spoke with Forbes magazine about avoiding some of the other hazards of summer, including car theft, grill fires, and dog bite liability.

We hope that you take the extra precautions outlined in the Forbes article — as well as review your insurance coverage – and have a safe, healthy summer.

“Landscape of Fear”:
What Wolves Can Teach Us About Risk Mitigation

Reintroducing wolves into areas where they’ve previously been decimated seems to reduce car crashes involving deer by nearly 25 percent.

Huh? What? Is this one of those “Correlation doesn’t equal causation” memes?

Not at all.

Scientists in Wisconsin have gathered data about road collisions and wolf movements in the state to quantify how the arrival of wolves affected the frequency of deer-auto collisions.

“In a pretty short period of time, once wolves colonize a county, deer vehicle collisions go down about 24 percent,” said Dominic Parker, a natural resources economist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and co-author of their new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You might say, “Well, of course – wolves eat deer, fewer deer means fewer collisions.” But it’s a bit more subtle than that. The scientists found that reintroducing wolves created what scientists call “a landscape of fear.”

“When you have a major predator around, it impacts how the prey behave,” Parker said. “Wolves use linear features of a landscape as travel corridors, like roads, pipelines and stream beds. Deer learn this and can adapt by staying away.”

Just one study

Now, of course, this is just one study, and it’s not being embraced by everyone – for example, farmers and ranchers who don’t love the reintroduction of predators that might kill their livestock or add to the cost of protecting the animals they raise.

“People who value the existence of wolves are often not in the same communities where wolves are present,” said Jennifer Raynor, Parker’s colleague and co-author. “Urban wildlife lovers may be happy to know that wolves exist out there, but rural people have to stare at the carcasses of livestock and pets.”

Deer-vehicle collisions “are happening in both urban and rural areas,” Raynor said. “No one is avoiding this problem” – which means rural people are also benefiting from wolves, whether they realize it or not.

On average, 19,757 Wisconsinites collide with deer every year, leading to about 477 injuries and eight deaths. Wolves save the state $10.9 million in losses every year, the scientists determined —a figure 63 times greater than the total compensation paid for the loss of livestock or pets.

The average cost of an animal-strike claim under comprehensive coverage for 2001-14 models during calendar years 2004-13 was $2,730. That’s a hefty price but still lower than the average payout of $3,510 for a collision claim, the Highway Loss Data Institute has found.

More research needed

Guillaume Chapron at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who studies large carnivores, says the team hasn’t provided enough information about their statistical methods, the degree of uncertainty in their results, or details on how to replicate their analysis.

“It may be that they found a new dimension to the role played by wolves, but their paper makes a critical evaluation of their findings impossible,” he said. “I’m sure it will be loved by wolf advocates, but much less by statisticians.”

Eyes on natural risk mitigation

More research clearly is needed before anyone should begin advocating large-scale reintroduction of wolves into populous areas with an eye toward reducing auto insurance claims and premiums. But the study highlights an area to which insurers are paying increasing attention: natural risk mitigation.

For example, interest has risen in how restoration of natural ecosystems – such as mangrove forests and coral reefs – can reduce insured losses caused by storm surge caused by hurricanes.

In many places, mangroves are the first line of defense, their aerial roots helping to reduce erosion and dissipate storm surge. A healthy coral reef can reduce up to 97 percent of a wave’s energy before it hits the shore. Reefs — especially those that have been weakened by pollution, disease, overfishing, and ocean acidification — can be damaged by severe storms, reducing the protection they offer for coastal communities. 

In Florida, a recent study found, mangroves alone prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25 percent. Another study found that mangroves actively prevent more than $65 billion in property damage and protect over 15 million people every year worldwide.

Communities, businesses, and families looking to reduce damages and their associated costs should look closely at natural, pre-emptive mitigation.

Learn More on the Triple-I Blog

Man-Made and Natural Hazards Both Demand a Resilience Mindset

Hurricane Delta Triggered Coral Reef Parametric Insurance

Mangrove Insurance: Parametric + Indemnity May Aid Coastal Resilience

Mangroves and Reefs: Insurance Can Help Protect Our Protectors

Distracted driving during the pandemic

Getty Images

Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on mobile devices, eating, and talking with passengers, are a major safety threat.

During the pandemic, while overall driving decreased, unsafe behavior by drivers rose in an alarming way. Motor vehicle deaths were up 8 percent in 2020 from the prior year – the highest percentage increase in 13 years, according to the National Safety Council.

Perhaps unaware of the danger, one in four drivers thinks roads are safer today than they were before the pandemic, yet a growing number of people reported using their mobile devices in unsafe ways while driving, according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving.

The study found increases in the following behaviors:

  • Texting or emailing (26 percent, up from 19 percent pre-pandemic).
  • Checking social media (20 percent, up from 13 percent pre-pandemic).
  • Taking videos and pictures (19 percent, up from 10 percent pre-pandemic).
  • Shopping online (17 percent, up from 8 percent pre-pandemic).

“Traffic volumes were lower during the early days of the pandemic, which may have given drivers a false sense of security,” said Chris Hayes, Second Vice President of Workers Compensation and Transportation, Risk Control, at Travelers. “Not only did distracted driving increase, data from our telematics product IntelliDrive shows that speeding also became more prevalent. As travel restrictions are lifted around the country, it’s critical to slow down and stay focused on the road by eliminating distractions.”

Travelers’ findings suggest that many people may be feeling increased pressure to always be available for their jobs. This year, 48 percent of business managers said they expect employees to respond frequently to work-related calls, texts or emails, compared to 43 percent pre-pandemic. One in four respondents said they answer work-related calls and texts while behind the wheel, citing the following reasons:

  • 46 percent said they think it might be an emergency.
  • 29 percent said their supervisor would be upset if they don’t answer.
  • 22 percent said they are unable to mentally shut off from work.

Yet, a higher number of employers are concerned about liability from distracted driving. More than one-quarter (27 percent) indicated that they worry a great deal about their liability should an employee be involved in a crash because of distracted driving, up from 21 percent pre-pandemic.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Here are a few resources to help reduce preventable crashes and keep everyone safe on the road:

Travelers Distracted Driving Prevention Materials
National Safety Council
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
OSHA Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes

Will Pandemic
Driving Trends Persist
After COVID-19 Passes?

More people died in New York City automobile accidents in 2020 than in 2019, despite greatly reduced driving as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown. The local trend is consistent with broader ones recently referenced by Triple-I senior vice president and chief actuary James Lynch.

As of this morning’s reporting on WNYC, 227 people had died in car-related accidents this year in New York City, compared with 203 by this time last year. This increase appears to be due to more speeding and reckless driving, as documented by a doubling of speeding tickets in 2020, from more than 2 million to 4 million.

Similar trends are reported in other states. In Minnesota, 372 fatal accidents have been reported, compared with 346 this time last year.  Wisconsin reported a 7.4 percent increase in auto fatalities.

During the first six months of 2020, Colorado’s traffic deaths rose just by just 1 percent from the same period in 2019 – but the fatality rate per vehicle mile traveled rose by 20 percent.

Nationally, Triple-I’s Lynch said, “mileage driven this year is down 12 percent, but traffic fatalities are up 4 percent. The concern is that frequency patterns will return to the norm, but fast driving will keep claim severity high, putting upward pressure on rates.”

WNYC’s Steven Nessen reported some good news with respect to pedestrian deaths in New York, which are down to 93 from 108 this time last year. 

“If the city can keep it up, this may end up being the safest year for pedestrian deaths since Mayor DeBlasio took office,” Nessen said.

Nessen also noted that deaths of bicyclists in New York City were little changed in 2020 – notable because bicycle use has increased dramatically this year – and that reckless drivers “seem mostly to be killing themselves by hitting medians or trees.”

“Where we see a big jump in numbers is in motorcycle deaths,” he continued. “Those numbers nearly doubled this year, to forty-seven.”

This isn’t surprising, given that motorcycle fatalities – per vehicle miles traveled – occur nearly 27 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in crashes.

The Dangers of Driving During the Holiday Season

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

As the holiday season continues to ramp up, it’s important to remember that this time of year is particularly risky for driving. That’s why December has been officially designated Drugged and Drunk Driving Prevention month.

During the Christmas holidays, alcohol-impaired fatalities in 2018 comprised 37 percent of total traffic fatalities, compared to 29 percent total for all times of the year. In total, there are more than 750 fatalities in December due to drunk driving, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

According to National Safety Council, the average number of traffic deaths during New Year’s Day over the last five holidays is almost 68 percent greater than the average number of traffic deaths during nonholiday periods, with 175 deaths compared to the usual 104 deaths.

Drunk driving is not the only reason people get into dangerous accidents during the holidays. Extreme weather can also contribute to risks during the blustery winter season, including snow, black ice, high winds and hail. Fatigued and stressed driving is also an issue during the holidays, with individuals potentially traveling further than they usually do. And in 2020, anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic may make these stress-related issues worse.

With this in mind, it’s important to remember some tips to remain safe while driving during the holiday season, including:

  • Drive defensively by taking precautions while driving, paying close attention to the cars around you. Even if you’re not drinking or driving recklessly, others may be.
  • Do not drive if you are drinking, making sure you have safe, sober transportation, regardless of how far you’re traveling.
  • Plan for inclement weather by checking weather forecasts and changing your plans if necessary.

Remember: the holidays can be a busy and stressful time for people, but that’s no reason to let your guard down while driving.

For more safe driving tips check out this Triple-I video.

Usage-Based Insurance Gets Confidence Boost During COVID-19 Pandemic

Drivers seem to have become more comfortable in the past year with the idea of giving up their data to help insurers more accurately price their coverage.

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 insurance premiums adjusted based on typical telematics variables. Between 30 and 40 percent said they would be either very or extremely comfortable sharing this data.

In May of this year, they ran the survey again with more than 1,000 licensed drivers.

“This time,” Arity says, “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.”

This is a year-over-year increase of more than 12%. What happened?

The answer begins with a “C” and ends with a “19.”

Money talks…

Telematic information was part of the reason insurers could return money quickly to their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that fact seems to have brought positive attention to usage-based insurance (UBI). Telematics combines GPS with on-board diagnostics to record and map where a car is, its condition, and how fast it’s traveling. This technology is integral to UBI, in which insurers are able to adjust premiums based on driving behavior.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Arity data showed considerable changes in how and when people were driving when they began to self-quarantine in March 2020. Driving across the U.S. dropped significantly, and this data helped spark the trend of insurance carriers offering refunds to their policyholders.

“These paybacks were widely covered by the media, including Forbes, so consumers became aware of the potential savings, even if their own insurer didn’t offer a discount,” Arity reports.

“Private-passenger auto insurers returned around $14 billion in premiums this year to the nation’s drivers as miles driven dropped dramatically in the pandemic’s early months,” says James Lynch, Triple-I’s chief actuary. “This resulted in a five percent reduction in the cost of auto insurance for the typical driver in 2020, as compared to 2019.”