Category Archives: Highway Safety

Distracted driving during the pandemic

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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.” 

Based on gas consumption, we’re nearly back to driving at pre-pandemic/recession levels

By Dr. Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist, Insurance Information Institute

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes extensive data on petroleum production, refining and supplies to users, with some data provided on a weekly basis. Gasoline supplied to retailers is not quite the same as gasoline consumed but it is close. And gasoline consumed is not exactly the same as miles driven but it is close.  Consequently these data can indicate how much people are driving, sooner than we get data on the frequency and severity of collisions. Still, one benefit of tracking these data is that they are published in a timely way.

As a baseline, consider gasoline supplied in the first 12 weeks of 2020, compared to the comparable weeks in 2019 (Figure 1). Although this comparison can be affected by changes in prices from year to year as well as changes in weather (and possibly other differences between the two periods), we can assume that these differences are small and do not obscure longer-term trends.

The graph shows some week-to-week variation, but basically the same—or maybe a little less—gas supplied in 2020 vs. 2019.

Then the pandemic—and the start of the recession caused by fighting it—happened. Driving was sharply curtailed, and auto insurers instituted programs for refunding premiums to reflect this change. Figure 2 adds to Figure 1 the percentage change in year-over-year supplies of gas for the rest of March and all of April 2020.

But in May some states began relaxing various restrictions, and driving began to return to near-pre-pandemic/recession levels, as Figure 3 shows.

At this point there is no way to know what caused this spike in gas usage, but some speculate that any or all of the following could be responsible:

•        States are moving to more permissive stages of lockdown, resulting in more travel, especially to beaches and other outdoor activities

•        People who once took public transportation are now choosing to drive, thereby lessening exposure to the virus that might result from travel on mass transit

•        Warmer weather months are traditionally a time for more driving

•        The price of gas continues to be unusually low, making driving less burdensome than the prior year.

Deer season creates road hazards

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Insurance Information Institute

Deer season—which usually runs from October through December—can be a dangerous time for motorists. During this period, deer are moving frequently and often cross over dangerous areas, like highways and other heavily-trafficked areas.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are more than 1.5 million accidents related to deer every year, which result in over $1 billion in vehicle damages. And these accidents aren’t merely expensive: 211 people died in collisions with animals in 2017.

Indeed, between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019 one out of every 116 drivers had an insurance claim from hitting an animal, according to State Farm. These claims were most likely in West Virginia, with one in 38 people making an insurance claim based on this kind of accident.

With this in mind, it’s important to take precautions when driving during this period of the year. Deer often travel in groups, so it’s vital to slow down with even one deer on the side of the road. Additionally, try to brake instead of swerving if faced with a crash. Above all, be alert—there’s no substitute for prudence during deer season.

The Insurance Information Institute has Facts & Statistics on deer vehicle collisions here.

Boise, Idaho has the nation’s safest drivers, according to Allstate city rankings

It’s no wonder that Boise, Idaho is one of the nation’s fastest growing cities: It boasts a thriving job market, breathtaking natural vistas and a buzzing brewery scene. Boise can also claim to have the nation’s safest drivers. According to Allstate’s America’s Best Drivers Report, released earlier this year, the average driver in the U.S. will experience a collision every 10.7 years, compared to every 13.7 years in Boise.

Allstate standardizes their rankings to level the playing field between drivers in densely populated areas and those in smaller cities. Allstate also determines safe cities to drive in by how weather affects road conditions, utilizing data to standardize average annual precipitation. However, many factors contribute to car crashes, including the number of cars on the road.

“Things like the layout of a city, its transportation network, traffic signs and lights, and law enforcement can all impact driving safety,” said Saat Alety, Allstate’s Director of Federal Legislative and Regulatory Affairs. “Different levels and types of traffic, noise, activity and varying road conditions and rules can make big-city driving different than driving in smaller or more suburban areas.”

The cities that landed on the bottom of the list are Los Angeles, Glendale, Worcester, Boston, Washington D.C. and Baltimore. In cities that rank lowest in safest drivers, there are roads that have been identified in the reports as particularly treacherous.

“America’s infrastructure is in dire need of an overhaul,” Alety said.

Allstate is offering $150,000 in grants that can be used for safety improvement projects on the 15 “Risky Roads.” The company is working with local safety experts to determine which projects will have a positive effect for motorists driving on these crash-prone streets.

“When you consider the impact a daily commute has on a person, it’s not hard to imagine how one small traffic improvement can be a positive change for many,” Alety added. “Our grants signal Allstate’s commitment to reduce risky conditions on America’s roads in communities across the country, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. We need Congress to pass comprehensive infrastructure reform so we can rebuild a transportation network that ensures a safer future on the roads for everyone.”

 

 

Memorial Day weekend road safety tips

The Memorial Day weekend brings masses of holiday travelers out on the road, and that unfortunately means more accidents. One recent study found that Memorial Day is the deadliest of all holidays, with drivers and passengers four times as likely to die in a traffic accident over the holiday weekend as over a regular weekend. And while these grim statistics should not dissuade you from traveling by car this weekend, here are some driving safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t drive if you’re drunk or high; that’s a no-brainer. But also ask yourself if you are tired, sick or drowsy. If you’re impaired in any way, do not hit the road.
  • Make sure your car is in good condition. Are you up-to-date on maintenance, are your tires inflated properly and does your windshield give you a clear view?
  • Practice defensive, safe driving tactics including: buckling your seatbelt; stay aware of other drivers; maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you; and observe speed limits and traffic signals.
  • Be ready to focus on driving.  Distracted driving accounts for an increasing number of crashes.  Whether it’s talking to passengers, switching radio stations or texting, anything that takes your concentration from the task at hand can lead to an accident.
  • Be prepared. What is the weather like? Is a storm likely? Do you have emergency supplies in the car like water, a first-aid kit, flashlight, blanket, map and a roadside safety kit? Here is a checklist of items you should keep in your car.

Have a safe holiday weekend, all!

 

What will legal marijuana mean for Canada’s road safety?

don’t drive stoned.

As you’ve probably heard, recreational marijuana will be legal across Canada come October 17, 2018. Will stoned driving increase? Will this lead to more accidents and fatalities?

We can’t divine the future, of course.  But perhaps we can learn something from the past. Did roads become more dangerous after states began legalizing recreational pot in the U.S.?

The short answer: probably, to some degree.

  • The more stoned a driver is, the more likely she is to be involved in an accident. Motor and cognitive skills are important for safe driving. Getting stoned makes both these skills worse – and the more stoned a person is, the more these skills deteriorate.
  • The number of “THC-positive” drivers on the road increased after legalization. In Washington state, at least. There’s evidence that the percentage of stoned drivers went up noticeably after the state legalized recreational pot.
  • Fatal crashes involving drivers who tested positive for THC increased. Some studies indicate that more people with “detectible” levels of THC in their bloodstreams were involved in fatal accidents after legalization.
  • Collision claim frequency appears to have increased. Early analysis suggests that states with legal marijuana have higher rates of car collisions than they would have had without legalization.

There is an important caveat to all this. You’d think that figuring out when someone is stoned would be easy. It’s not. Unlike alcohol, measuring marijuana impairment is complicated. THC can remain in a user’s bloodstream for days, even weeks, after getting high. Having THC in her bloodstream at the site of an accident does not automatically mean a driver was stoned at the time of a crash.

To make matters worse, to what degree marijuana impacts one person’s driving skills is also not so clear-cut as you’d think. Marijuana impacts different people differently. Researchers are currently trying to figure out how to account for things like THC tolerance when they measure how much marijuana increases crash risks.

But despite these complications, most evidence suggests that stoned driving is a bad idea – it endangers the driver, passengers, and other drivers. For this reason, Canadian provinces have begun revising their impaired driving laws to come down harder on stoned driving.

So what does this mean for road safety in Canada? It’s still too early to tell, but marijuana legalization in the U.S. should serve as a warning.

Teen crash risk spikes in first 3 months after getting license

Teen drivers are a lot more likely to get into a car crash or near crash during the first three months after getting a driver’s license, compared to the previous three months with a learner’s permit.

A new study, led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that teens were eight times more likely to have a crash or near crash during this period, and four times more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as rapid acceleration, sudden braking and hard turns.

Teens with learner’s permits drove more safely, with their crash/near crash and risky driving rates akin to those of adults.

“During the learner’s permit period, parents are present, so there are some skills that teenagers cannot learn until they are on their own,” said Pnina Gershon, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “We need a better understanding of how to help teenagers learn safe driving skills when parents or other adults are not present.”

The I.I.I. has a backgrounder on teen drivers here.