Printed from BusinessInsurance.com

Hitting the brakes on distracted driving

Posted On: Jul. 3, 2017 12:01 AM CST

Risk management expert Dave Barry pulled his car over at a gas station on the outskirts of St. Louis recently to practice what he preaches: talking about the dangerous practice of distracted driving on his cellphone.

“Even with a hands-free device, it’s not enough,” said Mr. Barry, who often travels to visit clients from his home in Overland Park, Kansas, as the national director for casualty risk control with the risk control and claims advocacy practice for Willis Towers Watson P.L.C. “I am telling clients these days that if you are texting or talking, you need to be pulled over by the side of the road.”

Mr. Barry and others say that despite the onslaught of information, public awareness and even state laws banning talking or texting while driving, people — whether on the job or off — are not putting down their phones.

According to the Ruckersville, Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 14 states and the District of Columbia, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, and texting behind the wheel is illegal in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

And employer policies banning distracted driving are not having much of an impact in mitigating the risk, experts say.

National studies have shed light on the scope of the problem. In 2015, 3,477 people were killed in accidents involving a distracted driver, according to the Washingtonbased National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

As for accidents caused by distracted drivers, the Itasca, Illinois-based National Safety Council has long held the numbers go underreported: “There is strong evidence to support that underreporting of driver cellphone use in crashes is resulting in a substantial underestimation of the magnitude of this public safety threat,” the organization revealed in a recent white paper.

Meanwhile, Blacksburg, Virginia-based Virginia Tech Transportation Institute studied distracted driving in-depth in 2009 and found that dialing a cellphone, talking or listening to a cellphone, and reaching for an object such as an electronic device substantially increased the risk of a crash or near crash.

“Most companies have distracted driving policies; the challenge is going further than that,” said Michael Davis, Houstonbased senior vice president and risk control leader for Lockton Cos. L.L.C. “It’s a huge problem.”

And experts argue the policies can be as flimsy as the paper they are printed on.

“More training is probably one of the worst solutions for this problem,” said Mr. Davis. “It’s an easy thing to adopt (for companies) because (they) can say, ‘Hey, we sent out a memo.’ ”

“It isn’t just saying, ‘Hey this is bad for you.’ It’s offering alternatives,” said Tim McCarty, Gorham, Maine-based risk

control manager for San Antonio-based Trident Public Risk Solutions, which works with public entities. “The important piece is that we are not just saying, ‘Don’t do this.’ We are helping with solutions.” For that, a small but growing number of companies are in the infant stages of enlisting technology and other services that will keep the talking and texting at bay for people who drive for a living or as part of their job requirements, experts say.

The new offerings run the gamut — from software that will shut a cellphone down when it’s in motion to in-car cameras that record a driver who makes a sudden stop or swerve — but companies are slow to adopt them. “Honestly, it will be 10 years before something like this comes out (into the mainstream),” said Mr. Davis.

The problem is technology can be pricey, he said.

With some companies recognizing the return on investment, Mr. Davis said he knows of early adopters of a new technology that tracks eye movement. “(Employers) can see where your eyes are focused on; (the camera) will send an alarm and beep, and tell you (that you) are not paying attention to the road.”

Nancy Bendickson, Bloomington, Minnesota-based senior consultant, casualty risk control, for Aon Risk Solutions, said similar technology can alert an employer in the event of an accident.

“The camera-based systems can send an alert: Joe Smith just had an event here and it was related to the cellphone,” she said. “When people know they are being monitored, and they know it is not condoned, we see the risky behavior go down.”

Chris Stites, Denver-based senior vice president for Samba Safety, a company that provides background screening and scours state-by-state driver safety records for employers, said records-monitoring and rewarding or punishing driver behavior is also on the uptick.

“What companies have a hard time doing is enforcing (their policies),” he said.

“If employers have a policy and they don’t have a way to enforce it, it’s a problem.”