Driving While Distracted – Driver Distractions, Auto Accidents And Your Car Insurance Rates

Distractions draw your attention away from the road whenever you’re behind the wheel. On any given day, you might confront thousands of things that cause you to divert your attention or take your mind off traffic. Some are necessary. Stop signs, merging vehicles, traffic lights, and construction crews all must be acknowledged. On the other hand, cell phones, texting, reading, and putting on makeup should be avoided while driving. These and countless other distractions dramatically increase the risk of causing an accident. Driving while distracted – from any kind of distraction – can cause your car insurance rates to climb.

Below, we’ll share a few statistics that will demonstrate the extent to which talking on the phone impairs your ability to drive safely. We’ll then take a look at other activities that can pull your attention away from the road. You’ll also learn how a single mistake due to distracted driving can influence your auto insurance rates for years to come.

Talking On The Phone While Driving

Driving While Distracted: Driver Distractions, Auto Accidents And Your Car Insurance Rates
Driving While Distracted: Driver Distractions, Auto Accidents And Your Car Insurance Rates

It should not come as a surprise that using a phone while driving diverts your attention from the road. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 18 percent of accidents involving fatalities, and attributable to driver distraction, involved the use of cell phones. Additionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported that drivers are up to four times as likely to cause accidents when using handheld devices, including phones.

Many drivers think their experience behind the wheel reduces the risk. That is, they assume most of the accidents are caused by younger drivers, or those who have not driven for long. But this is inaccurate. The Insurance Bureau Of Canada (IBC) commissioned a study (published in 2007) that found novice and experienced drivers were equally distracted by cell phones.

Over the last several years, there has been a transition from using handheld phones to hands-free devices. This was based on the assumption that people are distracted by phone usage because they are forced to hold their phones while talking on them. But a study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah found this assumption to be untrue – or at least questionable. Findings from the study revealed that a driver’s reactions while using a phone are similar to those of a drunk driver, regardless of whether the device is physically held.

These studies demonstrate that using a phone while driving is a bad idea. But it is important to realize that many other seemingly benign activities may prove equally disastrous on the road.

Reader Tom Harkness suggested this excellent link on texting while driving, the commitment to safety page from Verizon Wireless. It show some distressing statistics on the effects of the driving/texting connection and is well worth a read.

Distractions Beyond Talking On The Phone

Researchers categorize distractions into three types: manual, visual, and cognitive. Manual distractions force you to remove your hands from your steering wheel; visual distractions cause you to look away from the road; and cognitive distractions affect your focus. With this in mind, consider the myriad things you might do that pull your attention away from the road.

Do you read while driving, including looking at maps or directions? Do you attend to your car’s stereo system (i.e. changing CDs, lowering the volume, etc.)? Do you shave or brush your hair in traffic? Many people eat meals while driving. Not only is doing so distracting, but some foods can drip, spill, or leave your hands greasy.

These activities may seem harmless, but will impair your decision-making ability on the road. In doing so, they expose you to an increased risk of causing an accident.

How Distracted Driving Affects Your Rates

If you’re caught driving while distracted, you may receive a ticket and be required to pay a fine. Although both are inconvenient, the financial cost of distracted driving can be far more severe. Your auto insurance rates are calculated based on numerous criteria. One of the most influential factors is your driving record.

If you have a clean record devoid of accidents and tickets, you’ll enjoy lower rates than otherwise (shop around to find the lowest rates possible). But a single at-fault accident on your driving record can cause your rates to rise by up to 40 percent. The reason is because your insurer will reevaluate the risk of loss associated with insuring you, and adjust your premiums accordingly. If you cause an accident due to being distracted, you’ll pay higher premiums for several years. That will amount to much more than a one-time fine.

Clearly, it pays to avoid distractions while you’re on the road. However, if you cause a collision that sends your rates skyward, shop around for another insurer. You may find that comparing quotes from several insurance companies uncovers a less-costly alternative.

( Photo by chris.corwin )

15 Responses to Driving While Distracted – Driver Distractions, Auto Accidents And Your Car Insurance Rates

  1. As an insurance agent we deal with the situation on a regular basis. The client gets into an accident and then receives a surcharge on their policy. Of course not all insurance companies will penalize you in the same amount and that’s why shopping around can often generate a great savings when you get a big rate increase on your car insurance.

  2. So the moral of the story is don’t text, etc, and if you do, be ready to shop. I think a lot of people may not fully grasp the fact that a single accident can change you’re entire auto insurance picture, which should be a compelling reason to avoid dangerous and/or illegal activities in the first place.

  3. Kevin I agree. Unfortunately we have had in the last year one of our personal clients severely injured due to a young person not paying attention and texting. (She is no longer able to work)

  4. Hi guys, being responsible and safety must always be the priority of the driver even if the know they have and insurance. Accidents resulting from using cellphones while driving must monitored because when life is taken I don’t think that insurance is worth it.

  5. The moral of this story I guess is to not text and drive. Pretty obvious, but the temptation is still there (especially if you are a teen who considers yourself invincible). I would expect to see these incidents decrease as phoning-while-driving laws get harsher.

  6. Hi Jim, I completely agree. That’s not a bad idea either. Cell phone calls are enough of a distraction, texting is so much worse.

  7. Driving on the roads is already scary enough with all of the drunk drivers, but adding in an electronic that so many people are using on the roads makes it so much scarier.

  8. Every time I drive I am amazed that there aren’t more accidents than there are. Many cars now seem to have a lot of additional safety features such as adaptive cruise control and lane assistance features that will keep you in the lane. I wonder if all of these features will reduce car accidents in the long run? I bet it would make the insurance companies happy.

  9. Hi Alexis – Agreed, and what makes it worse is that using cell phones, smart phones, iPhones, etc., has become second nature. People whip them out and start using them without even thinking. That’s a real concentration killer when you’re driving, and a split second lapse in attention could create a disaster.

  10. Hi John – I’m with you, it’s amazing there aren’t more serious accidents. Still, I’ve noticed that drivers are so much more erratic than in the past. They change lanes suddenly, make turns without using blinkers, slow down/accelerate for no apparent reason – stop in the middle of the road. This has to be electronic equipment – or Starbucks coffee, or I’ve even suspected the widespread use of prescription medications.

    People seem to be more irrational in their driving patterns than I’ve ever seen in my life. I think all these factors are having an impact. Fortunately most will result in nothing more serious than fender-bender accidents. I’m sure the insurance companies aren’t liking those any better than high speed collisions. I got rear-ended once – at a red light – by a lady who was on her cell phone. Turns out it was her third cell phone related accident!

  11. Main reason for distraction is talking with someone in mobile and see anything else outside. avoid the mobile phones in traffic.

  12. Agreed, and especially true if you’re talking on the phone about something heavy. It’s a distraction no matter how it’s justified.

  13. That is, they assume most of the accidents are caused by younger drivers, or those who have not driven for long. But this is inaccurate.

  14. Using cell phones is main distraction in traffic…Avoid the mobile phone in driving.

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