The Future in Auto Claim Prevention

By Denise Johnson | August 24, 2011

Vehicle Technology Tools, Red Light Cameras, Better Roads and More Give Way to Reduction in Claims

There has been a reduction in auto insurance property damage and injury claims within the past 50 years through the introduction of safety belts, graduated licensing programs and laws against driving while intoxicated, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Intelligent vehicles, driver assistance systems, improved road design and traffic controls, and continued driver safety campaigns promise an even greater reduction of accident-related claims in the future.

Technology Helps

While cell phones and text messaging have added to driver distractions, other technology aims to curtail the problem through enhanced electronics like navigation, forward and backward collision warning devices, and adaptive headlamps.

In a 2010 report on the potential safety benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle communications, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates intelligent vehicles could help in as many as 4.3 million crashes annually.

“Intelligent vehicles are the next frontier of collision avoidance innovations that could revolutionize the driving experience and hold the potential of helping reduce many crashes,” said Sue Cischke, group vice president, Ford Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering.

Ford is conducting research using so-called intelligent vehicles that use Wi-Fi and GPS to wirelessly talk to each other and to detect dangerous situations.

“Intelligent vehicles could help warn drivers of numerous potential dangers such as a car running a red light but blocked from the view of a driver properly entering the intersection,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation.

Ford’s plan is to work on an advanced wireless globally standardized platform that will allow vehicle to vehicle communication to reduce crashes.

Though intelligent vehicles are a thing of the future, driver assistance technology utilizing forward looking radar, lane departure warning systems, and blind spot detection currently available in cars today have already been shown to reduce crashes.

“There’s just a lot of technology like that where automakers are trying to use advanced sensors and electronics to give drivers information about the dangers they may be getting into and alert them to the fact they may need to make some changes,” says Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS.

A new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) found that crash avoidance technology in Volvo XC60 SUVs prevented one out four rear end crashes. The technology, called City Safety, uses an infrared laser sensor embedded in the windshield to monitor the area in front of the vehicle during speeds of 2 to 19 miles per hour. It will automatically brake to avoid front to rear crashes. The findings suggest significant savings to insurers is on the horizon, considering the estimated 1.7 million rear end collisions in 2010 reported by the NHTSA.

“It’s showing a 27 percent reduction in property damage liability claims which means that people with that system or cars with that system are filing 27 percent fewer such claims. That’s a big deal to the insurance industry,” says Lund.

Red Light Cameras

The IIHS reports that red light running killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009.

In a 2010 telephone survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 93 percent of drivers said it’s unacceptable to go through a red light, though one-third reported doing so in the past 30 days.

Despite conflicting views on red light cameras, research suggests their use results in fewer crashes. IIHS researchers found that in the 14 cities that had cameras during 2004-2008, the combined per capita rate of fatal red light running crashes declined 35 percent, compared to previous years.

“Red light cameras are basically making sure that red light runners are the ones paying for the enforcement,” Lund says.

Roundabouts and Safety

Though roundabouts tend to frustrate the drivers who navigate them, the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests the installation of roundabouts at intersections improves safety by decreasing vehicle speed and by eliminating right angle and left turn head-on impacts. In addition, multi-lane hazards are avoided and pedestrian crossings are shorter. As a result, there is a reduction in crashes and crash severity.

“We are seeing … an increase in the use of roundabouts”, says Lund. “From an insurance perspective we know this is going to cut down on crashes. Mainly, what roundabouts prevent are the very serious crashes, where somebody gets t-boned in the side.”

Driver inattention is also a factor in more than 1 million crashes in the nation annually causing injury, deaths, and damage costing nearly $40 billion a year according to the AAA Foundation.

“90 percent of crashes have driver error involved in them,” says Lund.

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates 23 percent of all motor vehicle crashes each year — or 1.3 million — involve drivers talking or texting on cell phones.

Distractions can be physical, mental, or both.

While driver distraction may be the single most crucial issue related to auto accidents today, age remains a factor as well.

In 2009, there were 33 million licensed U.S. drivers ages 65 and older.

With aging comes the potential for medical issues, dementia, and a reduction in reaction time. Addressing the issue, some states like New Hampshire and Illinois have instituted mandatory tests for elderly drivers and Pennsylvania has a deficit reporting law that requires doctors to report medical issues that affect driving ability.

Those in their golden years aren’t the only age group being scrutinized. Though drivers between the ages of 15-24 represent only 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 30 percent ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28 percent ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females, reports the Center for Disease Control.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, for every mile driven teens are four times more likely to be involved in a crash. The increased risk is due to obvious reasons like teens having other teen passengers, newly licensed drivers, underestimation of dangerous situations, inability to recognize hazardous situations, and the higher likelihood of speeding.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems designed to delay full licensure while allowing teens to get their initial driving experience under low-risk conditions, and parent-controlled GPS trackers are ways states and parents are working to combat teen crashes.

While driver safety campaigns have been around a long time, Lund doesn’t think they are effective. He sees vehicle technology as having the most promise in accident reduction.

“Teens, older drivers and distractions have always been a problem,” Lund says. “That’s why we’re so excited about this new crash avoidance technology, because for the first time we have technology that may actually enable us to protect people from the kinds of errors that we know they are going to make.”

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