Putting the Brakes on Distracted Driving

Ohio State researchers take the data-driven approach to the future of driver education.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

In late 2016, I was out to lunch with a couple colleagues in the insurance industry. During the course of our conversation, one of them mentioned that their company had noticed a dramatic uptick in rear-end collision claims since late 2007 and wondered what the culprit could be. After brief reflection, I picked up my iPhone, displayed it and said, “I think this may have something to with it.” 


Steve Jobs arguably changed the course of human history on June 29, 2007 when he unveiled Apple’s new iPhone, selling more than 12 million units in its first 12 months on the market.


This sudden and fierce adoption of technology has played a part in the increase in distracted driving crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration 2016 report on Distracted Driving:

  • Nine percent of fatal crashes were reported as distracted-affected crashes  
  • 3,450 people were killed as a result of distracted driving
  • Drivers ages 15 to 19 are most likely to be killed as a result of driving distracted



New research from Zhenhua Chen at The Risk Institute analyzed 1.4 million crash records in Ohio from 2013 to 2017 and found:

  • A 35 percent increase in distracted driver fatalities from 2013-2017
  • A 23 percent increase in serious injuries from 2003-2013
  • Distracted driving-related crashes account for 18 percent of Ohio’s traffic deaths


As a direct result of that lunch conversation, we began the Distracted Driving Initiative at The Risk Institute. The Risk Institute is a research center housed at The Ohio State University focused on an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to risk management. Our Distracted Driving Initiative is a nationwide collaboration among dozens of companies, organizations and government entities focused on how we can predict and curb distracted driving behaviors. We take a unique four-tiered approach: legislation, behavior, technology, and urban planning.


We’re committed to training the next generation of risk professionals to think creatively at every stage of their career. Because college-age students are most likely to be impacted by distracted driving, it seemed natural to allow our students to dive into researching it. 


From the outset, we had a hunch that driver education hadn’t kept up with the times – that driver education curricula were devoid of any comprehensive approach to curbing distracted driving behaviors, or anything beyond “don’t text and drive.” Three student researchers embarked on an ambitious research project – cataloging and analyzing drivers' education standards across the U.S. Some of the key findings include:

  • 20 percent of states do not require drivers' education
  • Several states do not require in-class training or supervised driving hours
  • States are increasingly amenable to a hybridized approach to driver training – blending online and classroom learning


This research formed the capstone of their internship with The Risk Institute and serves as the cornerstone to our data-driven approach to the Future of Driver Education. By utilizing app monitoring, and coaching with experiential training, we can gather data at every point and make data-informed decisions in real-time to create an individualized experience. 


In the coming months, we’re putting our theoretical work to the test with practical experience. We’ve partnered with Maria’s Message in Columbus and AAA to develop a research-based curricula that can be implemented across the country that will incorporate driving simulation experience, app monitoring and coaching in tandem with traditional driver training. 


Just as awareness has grown around the dangers of drunk driving and the need to wear seatbelts, we have to change the conversation around distracted driving. “Don’t Text and Drive” doesn’t cut it — distractions are evolving right along with technology, and people cannot be punished into changing. Distracted driving is everyone’s problem — together, we can do something about it. 


Author: Philip Renaud, The Risk Institute