Mobile data

Since its introduction nearly two decades ago, telematics – the combination of telecommunications and infomatics – has come a long way in reducing the risks of driver distraction.

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It is well known that there are links between crashes and excessive speed; speed cameras are used to detect drivers driving too fast and instead of receiving points on their licence, many police forces offer driver education workshops drivers are offered education workshops from police forces. Driver distraction, however, is a major factor for crash involvement, but is more difficult to detect. There are no widespread educational interventions to improve this high-risk driver behaviour.

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have reached the conclusion that skills-based driver training shows no evidence for effectiveness in reducing road traffic injuries or crashes for problem, experienced, learner and new drivers. Research suggests that drivers are involved in crashes for reasons that are not always related to lack of skills. Instead, drivers determine their own task demands to a large extent, based on their motives and emotion. For example, driving at excessive speeds due to aggression leads to higher task demands and increases crash risk. At-risk driver behaviour is determined by perceptions, motivation and emotion rather than lack of driving skills. For example, when drivers are motivated to reach their destination on time and believe factors outside their control prevent them from doing so, increased levels of stress and poor coping choices can lead to crashes. 

Behaviour change techniques address the erroneous beliefs that drivers use to justify the risk of driver distraction

A growing problem

One major behavioural factor leading to an increased risk of crash involvement is using a mobile phone while driving. A case-control study of naturalistic driving recorded data from 3,500 instrumented car drivers over a three-year period and recorded 905 distraction-related crashes (bit.ly/30AUWqZ). The findings show that different distractors were associated with different levels of risk. Interacting with touch screens increased the risk of a crash approximately five-fold whereas having a hand-held mobile phone conversation was associated with an approximately four-fold increase in crash involvement. Driver distraction is a major factor in crash involvement and behaviour change techniques (BCTs) are required to address the erroneous beliefs that drivers use to justify the risk. 

Mobile phone use while driving is difficult to detect using conventional road-policing methods. A Norfolk-based company has trialled a system consisting of an antenna, which picks up various mobile signal standards coupled with an LED display. When the antenna detects a radio signal, the LED display sign further down the road lights up with an image reminding drivers that they should not be using their phones while driving. However, this system is costly to install, has potential accuracy problems and is not able to detect whether the phone is being used legitimately for satellite navigation, for example.

A more fruitful and less costly method of detecting phone use while driving is with the use of a smartphone-based telematics app to collate and share data in real time. Smartphone-based telematics use a combination of data generated via the smartphone and its telecommunications alongside risk statistics and algorithmic processing. The data is processed via a cloud computer platform to generate and provide targeted feedback to the driver via an app. The feedback offers supporting positive education to improve driver safety. Such telematics-based apps are often available via insurance companies.

Lead indicators

The Floow is a UK-based data analytics company which recently developed an innovative method of processing data captured via the app to calculate a scalar risk metric for drivers using their mobile phone. A ‘distraction’ score is generated after each journey to indicate active engagement levels, with the phone using real-time sensor data and measuring how much a driver physically interacts with their phone as well as the call state throughout a journey. This approach allows a measure of contextual risk-taking that an individual undertakes each journey. It also allows feedback to the driver via an app immediately after every journey. However, it cannot be guaranteed that the driver will check their score on the app or on the portal. 

One method to ensure that drivers are aware of their scores is to offer drivers in the lowest-scoring decile a 12-week telephone coaching intervention called FloowCoach. Delivered on behalf of major insurers in the UK and the US, the coaching is a collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated approach that aims to challenge the perceptions that can lead to at-risk driver behaviours using BCTs. BCTs are the active ingredients incorporated into behavioural interventions and are effective in changing problem behaviour. According to research, telephone-based coaching has been found to be comparable to face-to-face coaching.

In studies using a combination of data from telematics and coaching, positive results on improved safety have been reported across several studies.

For FloowCoach, qualified and experienced coaches address the perceptions and motives behind using a phone while driving, and coaching helps drivers to reduce the risk of distracted driving by setting goals to improve distraction scores. 

More than 2,000 high-risk drivers have taken part in FloowCoach, and the latest research shows that for every 100 drivers in the lowest-scoring decile who have completed this programme, 13 accidents are avoided compared to a control group. Graduates also tend to continue to improve incrementally after the programme and rarely revert to previous score levels. These findings suggest that longer-term behavioural changes using telematics and coaching can be achieved in collaboration with insurance companies. 

This innovative approach to improving the risks of distracted driving could be widely deployed and lead to a significant reduction in the numbers of distracted drivers being killed and seriously injured around the world. 

For a list of references, see bit.ly/2FrJ1Sx



Dr Lisa Dorn is associate professor of driver behaviour at Cranfield University and research director for DriverMetrics.

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