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Auto Insurers Still Aren’t Penalizing Distracted Drivers Enough

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Next time you’re out driving, pay attention to how many other drivers are looking down at their phones instead of watching the road. It might shock you. Distracted driving has without a doubt become the most serious and terrifying public safety concerns of our time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that distracted driving is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. To help curtail distracted driving, many states are increasing penalties for driving under the influence of electronics, but critics believe this is not enough as it remains difficult to catch distracted drivers while in the act. That’s where auto insurers come in.

Many auto insurers are testing programs to help reduce distracted driving, including some which require policyholders use special apps which monitor every single drive they take for evidence of drivers’ seat phone use. While some see this as a bit too Orwellian, other insurers are taking the easier option of merely raising insurance premiums on drivers caught driving while distracted.

According to a new analysis from Zebra, a startup which helps shoppers compare insurance rates, the average insurance policy went up 16% last year after drivers were ticketed for phone use, lower than the increase applied for driving too slowly. Zebra’s director of market insights Alyssa Connolly believes that average is far too lenient. “The distracted penalty was shocking to us,” Connolly says, “It seems incredibly low.”

One of the challenges facing insurers is the fact that distracted driving is still a relatively new problem, and insurance underwriters don’t seem to have caught up to the severity of the problem. Furthermore, state laws which regulate insurance prices are slow to change, and concrete data on the prevalence of distracted driving is difficult to come by. What’s it going to take to stop distracted driving? Self-driving vehicles, or increased monetary penalties?

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