Did you know?

  • Distracted driving claimed an estimated 3,166 lives in 2017 (NHTSA).[i]
  • Each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver (CDC).[ii]

From the college freshman with a new car to the grandmother who likes to call her kids at any time, distracted driving crosses all generations. The distracting factors, however, can be widely different from one age group to another. A large amount of driving behavior data passes through our infrastructure daily. Examining this data, we see that over the last five years Millennials (born 1981-96 according to Pew Research Center) have led the pack with 88% of younger Millennials engaging in at least one risky behavior behind the wheel. Violations attributed to Generation X (born 1965-80) are beginning to decrease year over year. Our analysis shows the largest number of distracted driving violations (in terms of volume) attributed to Millennials followed by Generation X. With Post-Millennials (born since 1997), we see the largest increase in distracted driving violations year over year followed by Millennials versus speed or alcohol violations.

Take into consideration some macro trends influencing the insurance industry:

  • More miles driven generally translates into more accidents as accident frequencies increase when people spend more on the road, and decrease when they spend less time.
  • According to the National Safety Council statistics in the Insurance Journal, U.S. highway fatalities have increased to more than 40,000, a 14% increase since 2014.

“Distracted driving is not unique to younger generations. In fact, it’s a problem we are seeing across generations and demographics,” Jim Nichols of Volvo communications said in a statement.[iii]

According to Volvo, members of Generation X are more likely to use their phones while driving than Millennials or Post-Millennials, the youngest of the generations surveyed. Parents were the worst offenders, with 73% of respondents admitting to using their phones while driving, compared to 66% overall. One in three parents said they used their phones often with their children in the car.

With all generations engaging in some kind of distraction while driving, the question remains: how can insurers make better underwriting decisions to help lower risk on their books of business?

Millennials

Digging into a generational perspective, Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. This is important for us within insurance to remember as we consider how to plan for today and going forward. As expected due to their overall population size, Millennials had the most speeding violations. They also have the second highest rate of increase for distracted driving moving violations over the past five years. This is an interesting statistic, as early speculation believed that members of this generation were delaying car purchases.[iv] As they have begun to enter the job market, however, they are purchasing cars in large numbers.[v]

Their entrance into driving society is having an impact. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has identified this generation as the worst behaved drivers in the US, most specifically 88% of younger Millennials have engaged in at least one risky behavior such as speeding, running red lights or texting while behind the wheel. The Foundation also reported that texting is reported by this age group to be as prevalent as speeding and red light running. Incredibly, nearly 12% of this demographic feel it is acceptable to drive 10 mph over the speed limit in a school zone, compared to less than 5% of all drivers.

As these new trends develop, insurers and society need to determine whether distracted driving has become the “new” drunk driving. More education and investment is necessary as these young drivers report that they realize the implications of drinking and driving, but may not understand the consequences of texting and driving.

Post-Millennials

This leads us to Post-Millennials, teenagers mainly, who are now entering their driving years. The largest number of distracted driving violations (by volume) is attributed to Post-Millennials, followed by Generation X.  The Post-Millennial generation has seen the largest increase in distracted driving violations year over year, followed by Millennials, versus speed or alcohol violations.

“Born with a phone in their hands,” these digital natives are the segment most consistently growing in overall violations. This can certainly be expected as this is the group with the youngest drivers and still growing in total size. They are also experiencing the highest growth in speeding violations. Distracted driving which is the newest culprit they must face. We have seen driver distractions (playing with the radio, too many friends in the car) as a factor in these earlier generations, as new drivers develop their driving skills. While graduated driver license laws have had a positive impact, we need to ask ourselves how effectively we are addressing distractions caused by electronic devices.

While teen deaths due to car crashes were declining for a number of years, the trend began reversing in 2013 and is now the number one cause of death and injury for young people. The messages we send this generation about the perils of drinking and driving are the same as with previous generations, but texting while driving appears to be our newest educational need for young drivers.

Gen X

Generation X is driving slower. That or speed limits in many states have increased over the years to match their speeds. This generation has been the most consistent in lowering their total absolute count of speeding violations in each of the past 5 years. During this period they are down 10% aggregate. And as this segment matures, they have also demonstrated the most responsible management of distracted driving, at least from a moving violation perspective. Conversely, Generation X has outperformed all other generations for a relative increase in the number of distracted driving violations, although all groups have seen higher numbers.

From a risk perspective, they aren’t perfect by any means. A recent study by Volvo Car US and The Harris Poll discovered that even though distracted driving spans across generations, 73% of Generation X survey respondents admitted to engaging in unsafe driving techniques.[vi] Whether using their mobile phones to make calls or check emails, Gen Xers are gaining ground on younger generations with respect to distracted driving. So is this group any safer? Perhaps they are just more aware overall and see the lowest potential for receiving a moving violation.

And another consideration: while most parents wouldn’t even consider drinking and driving with their children in the car, the same can’t be said about texting and driving.

Baby Boomers

Although most distracted driving studies are aimed at earlier generations, these younger drivers may not be as dangerous as when older drivers text and drive. (This is not to say that texting and driving is safe in any capacity, of course.) Through our analysis of Motor Vehicle Records, we noticed that Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) have seen an increase in distracted driving moving violations in three of the last four years studied. In a recent study by Pew Research, drivers were put to the test in a driving simulator. During the test older drivers did worse overall with possible reasons being they take more time to read, write, or a potential inability to manage technological multitasking.[vii]  With 77% of Boomers saying that car tech makes driving safer[viii], the question remains, will technology really make them safer drivers or will it distract them even more?

Good News and Bad News

We see some dips that may be due to particular states tightening legislation in regards to and enforcing bans on texting and driving. But think about how much distracted driving flies under the radar because it’s hard to prove. Let’s be honest. How many of us have picked up the phone at a red light to read an email or send a quick text? Or if we want to be really honest, doing it while the vehicle is in motion but holding it just below the steering wheel so no one sees? According to law enforcement, it is easy to determine if speed, alcohol, or drugs have direct correlation in a collision. Anecdotally, officers say it is difficult to determine when distracted driving is the cause, as most people do not declare that they were distracted before they crashed. We can therefore conclude that the number of events related to distracted driving are underreported.

The Insurance Challenge

As technology capabilities continue to grow and expand, the insurance industry will have to continuously search for those signs that reflect a driver’s vulnerabilities and risks. One challenge we face is knowing that the driver may not show signs of distracted driving until the worst happens. On the contrary, though, we have an opportunity to help insurers and customers prevent these events, with data intelligence, telematics and vehicle history data, and by using data assets that can help put together a 360 view of the customer.

Chart 1 – Speeding: A Generational View

Chart 2 – Distracted Driving: A Generational View

Chart 3 – Distracted Driving Violation Rate Index

Chart 4 – Cell Phone and Texting Restrictions by State (iihs.org)

[i][i] https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving

[ii] https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/index.html

[iii] https://www.thedrive.com/news/23211/older-generations-engage-in-distracted-driving-too-volvo-study-says

[iv] https://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-millennials-cars-20161223-story.html

[v] https://www.v12data.com/blog/millennial-car-shoppers-are-ready-buy-what-your-dealership-needs-know/

[vi]Media Post, Marketing Daily section, Study Reveals Gen X More Distracted Drivers than Millennials, August 29, 2018

[vii] The Zebra website, Study: Baby Boomers 4 times Worse than Millennials at Texting and Driving

[viii] AARP website, https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2018/driving-trends.html

  1. Distracted driving, ‘Driving While Blind’ has reached epidemic proportions! I have just released a book which addresses the many distractions we face every time we get behind the wheel. ‘Driving While Blind’ was released last month exclusively on Amazon.

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