Cellphone distractions are top cause of car crashes

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 15 May 2024
Cellphone usage has the biggest impact on the likelihood of a vehicle insurance claim, says Discovery Insure.
Cellphone usage has the biggest impact on the likelihood of a vehicle insurance claim, says Discovery Insure.

Mobile phone distractions now top the list of risky driving behaviours in SA, according to new research by Discovery Insure.

The company revealed the findings during the United Nations (UN) launch event of the UN-JCDecaux campaign for road safety, held this week at Discovery’s office in Sandton.

The local launch of the UN Global Campaign for Road Safety, in partnership with JCDecaux, forms part of UN efforts to raise public awareness of life-saving initiatives on the road.

According to the research findings, while environmental factors like road conditions contribute to road fatalities, human factors such as driver behaviour play the biggest role.

The telematics-based research shows that over 60% of fatalities on SA’s roads are influenced by five behaviours: drinking and driving, mobile phone usage while driving, excessive speeding, aggressive driving and lack of vehicle maintenance.

Discovery Insure CEO Robert Attwell said the short-term insurer has access to over 19 billion kilometres of driving data, with 500 000 daily trips by clients, which enables it to get an in-depth understanding of factors influencing vehicle accident risks.

“Discovery Insure’s investment in telematics has been critical in unlocking key insights that enable us to create a nation of safe drivers,” said Attwell.

“We’ve seen a positive development as far as night-time accidents are concerned, which was partly attributed to increased usage of our Uber benefit. But now the increase in distracted driving accidents overshadows that.”

Phones overtake speeding

The data shows cellphone usage has the biggest impact on the likelihood of a vehicle insurance claim, even higher than speeding. A mere 20 seconds on the phone in each trip increases accident risk by over 60%.

Discovery Insure clients who submitted accident claims were 52% more likely to have used their phone than to have exceeded the speed limit on the day of the accident, notes the report.

Similarly, data from private emergency medical service ER24 highlights that distracted driving is the leading cause of car crashes in SA. This includes being distracted by anything from texting on the phone, applying make-up, eating, fiddling with the radio, trying to remove an article of clothing, or arguing with passengers, it says.

Drunk driving, speeding, reckless driving and poor road conditions are among other contributing factors, says ER24.

Research by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows texting while driving distracts a driver for an average of 4.6 seconds and increases the chances of crashing by 23%.

According to Discovery Insure, SA’s deteriorating road infrastructure also contributes to road fatalities and economic losses.

The insurer’s behaviour-centred Vitality Drive Programme aims to create safer drivers through the use of innovation. Data shows that drivers participating in the initiative reduce their accident risk by 15% within the first month of joining and have a 34% lower fatality rate than the South African average.

“The programme’s telematics technology helps drivers adopt good behaviours. The more they engage with the programme, reaching the highest Vitality Drive status, their frequency of accidents reduces by 70% and accident severity drops by 35%,” says Discovery Insurance.