As roads become increasingly more dangerous, due in part to drivers using their mobile phones, attempting to reduce distracted driving through laws is a step in the right direction.

Executive Summary

MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan, the co-founder of Cambridge Mobile Telematics, believes laws banning the use of mobile phones can only go so far in solving the problem of distracted driving, which has fueled a spike in fatal accidents. Here, he proposes that insurers become part of the solution by using smartphone sensors to detect not just vehicle-related behaviors like excessive speeding and hard braking but also when drivers are distracted by using their phones. Editor's Note: CMT is a smartphone-centric telematics provider.

Ten years ago, Washington became the first state to pass a ban against texting while driving. This summer, it became the 15th state to make any hand-held cellphone use while driving a primary offense, meaning an officer may pull over and cite a driver for that violation.

Are laws and the threat of punishment enough to make lasting improvements to driving behavior? To answer that, let’s consider another question: Do speed limits make everyone travel at a safe and reasonable speed?

Although laws like these are designed to make us safer, they don’t guarantee obedience, much less behavioral change. Drivers need to drive more safely, but state legislators can only do so much.

Insurance companies, on the other hand, have an opportunity to make a lasting impact on driver safety. And by doing so, not only can they help drivers and society, they can also strengthen themselves.

The insurance industry has observed some troubling trends over the past few years. The number of fatal accidents has risen by about 18 percent in the past two years. The frequency and severity of insurance claims has also risen, according to the Insurance Information Institute. One reason, of course, is an increase in driven miles due to an improving economy, but that alone doesn’t account for the trend. The growing popularity of the smartphone and its role as a fundamental cause of distracted driving is evident. As insurance claims have risen, many insurers are struggling to be profitable and have been forced to raise rates.

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