Car Crashes Rising at Fastest Rate in Decades: Insurance Groups

Traffic accidents are rising at the fastest pace in half a century, according to one insurance group.

Since 2014, the number of deadly auto accidents has increased 14 percent, severe accidents by 12.2 percent and pedestrian deaths by 22 percent, Robert Gordon, senior vice president of policy development and research for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said at a National Transportation Safety Board panel April 26.

Distracted driving

Insurance industry representatives like Gordon point to distracted driving as the main catalyst for the uptick in accidents.

“Smartphone ownership has more than doubled over the past five years, and it is not surprising that the percent of accidents involving phone distractions has increased, but we believe the real increase is far more than the official statistics,” Gordon said at the panel.

Using driver tracking technologies, insurance technology company (InsurTech) shared data with PCI that indicated Google Chrome, Netflix and Google’s YouTube are among the top 10 mobile apps used while people are driving.

Panelists at the NTSB pointed to an omniconnected culture as the root of the problem, with drivers constantly checking emails for example, in turn leading to more multitaskers behind the wheel, causing more accidents, they said.

More Drivers Equal More Accidents

But Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, previously told Bloomberg BNA that those upticks are likely results of people being on the roads again, back to work and with more money now that the Great Recession has ebbed.

“The big thing is more driving,” Hunter said then. “In 2008, we had a real drop off in driving,” referring to the height of the financial crisis.

As the economy improves and more people are working again, they have more disposable income to get on the road, Hunter said, adding that gas prices are cheaper as well.

“I think it will normalize in a year or so,” he said, considering historical relationships between the number of miles driven and the amount of accidents.

Stronger Penalties, New Laws Needed

Looking at solutions, the NTSB panelists primarily focused on informing young kids, teenagers, college-age adults and parents of the dangers of distracted driving as the best prevention aid for the trend.

Gordon said the penalties for driving distracted need to be increased before laws forbidding the practice will be more of a deterrent.

“Just a $200 ticket isn’t going to cut it,” Gordon said during the panel. “You need a sustained advertising campaign.”

Insurers are going state-by-state to try to convince local lawmakers to pass updated laws that forbid new types of distracted driving, with reasonable exceptions for navigation apps and ridesharing company drivers, according to Gordon’s statements and what PCI’s Bob Passmore, assistant vice president of personal lines policy, previously told Bloomberg BNA.