Is more tech the solution to prevent distracted driving?

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Non-driving activities such as eating, texting, talking on the phone, or conversing with passengers represented 29 percent of crashes in 2019, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While not all driving distractions stem from technology, we believe that technology distractions cause many of these crashes. Although it may sound counterintuitive, we also believe that advancing technology is the solution to reducing distracted driving incidents.   

By gaining a more nuanced understanding of the role technology plays in our day-to-day lives, we’re presented with an opportunity to harness the data from technologies to build innovative solutions that reduce risk and enable behavior change.

Technology’s influence on driver behavior

Since its widespread adoption in the early 2000s, smartphone technology has profoundly changed our lives. Differentiating from the simplistic mobile phone predecessor, the modern devices most of us use today combine an array of technologies that allow for impressive processing power and hardware innovation.

Today, smartphones are personal banking centers, sources of entertainment, personal assistants, social connectors, online shopping hubs, and tools for productivity. With mobile internet speeds radically changing and innovative software applications becoming integral parts of our day-to-day lives, it certainly begs the question —

Has the convenience come at a cost?

For decades, tech companies have spent time and money to advance smartphone technology to continuously grab and maintain user attention. These innovations, largely focused on social media, have inherently manipulated human psychology to create a short-term dopamine-driven feedback loop

This feedback loop of notifications and disruption has purposely been human-designed and engineered to be addictive by using variable rewards that heighten the brain’s chemical responses. For example, receiving a push notification from a text. With a slight rush resulting from a temporary and unreliable reward, the user is triggered to constantly keep checking for messages or status updates to experience that same dopamine rush. 

This neurochemical response is centered around the three neural reward pathways (mesocortical, nigrostriatal, mesolimbic) that are largely responsible for behaviors associated with learning, habit formation, and addiction. When we engage in behaviors or actions that release dopamine, these pathways are utilized to target specific areas of the brain and feel rewarded — which creates a perceived benefit and ultimately motivates us to repeat the same behavior.  

As we consider the neural pathways and imperceptible dopamine rush, it can be increasingly difficult for people to simply ignore their smartphones and disconnect — even when behind the wheel.

With a reported 97 percent of Americans owning at least one cell phone and checking their phones 144 times a day, we believe that the public health threat of distracted driving is largely due to the dopamine-driven reward cycle that technology and social media giants have abused to drive their own profitability.

Research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has shown that technology-based distractions are among the top causes of a driver's lack of attention, leading to compromised safety for themselves and everyone around them.

By understanding driver behavior and motivators, we believe that we can build the tools that may provide similar and better dopamine responses through innovative solutions that combat distraction instead of creating it.

A shift in thinking: from cause to solution

Before we can consider how to harness technology that creates similar chemical responses to promote safe driving behavior, we need to first understand which countermeasure technologies exist that help reduce driver distraction. Here are some common mitigation use cases highlighted by the National Distracted Driving Coalition (NDDC): 

  • Driver monitoring systems typically use a camera mounted within a vehicle to track driver distraction and/or drowsiness.

  • Restriction-based solutions utilize in-vehicle technology suites and smartphone apps to limit a driver’s opportunity to engage in risky behaviors.

  • Crash avoidance features are found in more modern vehicles and can alert distracted drivers to risks of crashing or intervene to help mitigate the risk of an accident.

  • Automated traffic law enforcement is utilizing technologies (street cameras, sensors, etc) to automatically enforce traffic laws, including those that result from distracted driving.

However, these technologies may not be enough. A 2020 study in Safety Science found that only 20.5 percent of drivers with compatible mobile devices had the smartphone technology feature, Do Not Disturb (DND), set to activate automatically when driving or when connected to their vehicle’s Bluetooth.

And because we understand the connection between smartphone technology and the brain’s chemical response to it, one solution to drive behavior change may lie in pairing restriction-based solutions with the variable reward feedback loop.

For teen drivers alone, Traffic Injury Prevention reports that over 95 percent of teens were significantly motivated by financial incentives (individual and group), and insurance discounts to give up social media and texting while driving.

With this knowledge, we believe there's an opportunity to leverage the same dopamine responses to improve focus and driving behavior. At Quanata, we've already laid the groundwork for this type of intervention through our work with the HiRoad* app, which is focused on giving drivers the tools, techniques, and practices found in existing mobile technology to help them stay focused on the road.

Strategically timed to give drivers the same dopamine response within the app, drivers are urged to take an action — such as enabling Focus Mode — or a challenge that nudges them in the right direction of being more mindful or knowing how to take advantage of technology so that they’re not distracted. As a result, that driver is incentivized and rewarded monetarily for taking that action.

It’s important to note however, that although approaches like these work, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. As we begin to better understand the motivations of the people who are engaging in the behavior, insurers can be more equipped to develop a whole spectrum of ways to address and mitigate the risk — leveraging the technologies that play a vital role in creating and preventing the distraction of drivers.

Technology to empower drivers

While technology has likely contributed to the rise of distracted driving, it also provides us with a unique opportunity to develop solutions that can help insurers prevent risk, build better driving habits, and keep roads safe for all. 

By fostering a culture of innovation, Quanata is actively contributing to a future where technology empowers drivers — rather than distracts them — and aligns solutions to insurers that will better predict and prevent risk. 

The mission to lower and solve distracted driving isn’t a war on technology, but rather a collaborative and multi-faceted call to ethically use technology and data to drive change.

Insurers and technology companies alike have a unique opportunity to provide the solutions that enable drivers to not only stay more safe on the road, but change behaviors that allow people to live better lives. 

Quanata, with our innovative technology stack, is well on its way to better predict and prevent risk — creating limitless value in the marketplace and influencing road safety in a big way. Connect with us to learn how we're shaping a future where technology empowers drivers and supports solutions that can lead the world to be a safer place on and off the road. 

*HiRoad® is a telematics-based auto insurance, powered by Quanata.

Some of the information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with Quanata®. While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. Quanata is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. Quanata makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

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