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“Smartphone Distraction is More Dangerous than Alcohol”

Written by Roger Peverelli and Reggy de Feniks - Founders The DIA Community on Nov 4, 2019

Too often the connected car’s data streams are only applied to improve pricing sophistication. In the future of insurance, it’s important to really engage with customers and provide value-added services. Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) focuses on making drivers safer with solutions to limit distraction at the wheel. We sat down with Mohsin Rashid, CMT’s Director of Corporate & Strategic Development, to discuss how insurers can make drivers safer, reduce distraction and play a new role at times of a crash.

CMT is the world’s largest mobile telematics and analytics provider. Founded in 2010, it launched its first insurer UBI product in 2012. It currently serves 35+ customers across 25+ countries with millions of drivers using its products. It was the first to introduce automated FNOL based on a mobile solution in 2015 and has a proven track record of changing driver behaviour. Recently, it raised $500M from the SoftBank Vision Fund to accelerate the growth of its existing platform and user base.


Before your current role at CMT, you worked at the Softbank Vision Fund, one of the world’s largest investment funds.
Mohsin: “The Softbank’s Vision Fund really focuses on investing in AI and other technologies focused on making the world a better place. The Vision Fund aims to invest in market leading technology companies, providing them with both capital and access to its ecosystem to enable them to become the dominant businesses in their space. CMT’s is the world’s largest mobile TSP, using mobile sensing, IoT, AI, behavioural science, and advanced research. The company started as a research project led by two MIT professors. Today, our team consists of more than 20 PhDs, 90+ engineers and data scientists – so it’s really founded on advanced technology and data science.”


CMT’s mission is to ‘make the world’s roads and drivers safer’. You’ve done a lot of research on distracted driving. Can you share some insights?
Mohsin: “One of the largest problems we’re facing today is the use of smartphones behind the wheel. Everybody has one. It’s not a problem in a meeting, nor if you’re walking down the street. But it’s a very real problem when you’re in a car. When a car is not driven properly, it’s a weapon. And if you’re distracted whilst driving a car then there is a real risk of causing harm to yourself, other people, and your surroundings. We found some quite damning statistics. I say damning because these are behaviours people have admitted to. No less than 44 percent of French drivers admit they are distracted by their phone. In Italy this is 54 percent and, in the UK, 34 percent. We see that these behaviours are consistent in different countries.”

A ‘distraction epidemic’ …
Mohsin: “Yes. And I’m afraid the actual numbers are probably higher. We found that 35% of drivers are distracted at least once per trip and 32% of trips include distraction. What is more worrying is that the average period of distraction is 23 seconds – which is a significant period of time; particularly if one considers the distance a vehicle travelling at speed can cover in such a timeframe. If you were to sit in a chair and do nothing for 23 seconds, you would probably get extremely bored after 5 seconds. Moreover, in 52% of trips where there’s a crash, distraction is detected during that trip.”

What about drinking and driving?
Mohsin: “What many people don’t realize is that distraction is more dangerous than alcohol. But there isn’t a public stigma around it. If you compare the time a sober person takes to hit the brakes, then that benchmark that versus someone who is mildly intoxicated or someone who is texting, you’ll find a 19-meter difference in reaction time. There is potentially a lot of harm you can do in 19 metres. So why is there not this stigma or appreciation around the dangers of distraction?”

That’s ground-breaking insight. So, now that you have the numbers and identified the problem, how do you deploy this data to solve the problem?
Mohsin: “There are two approaches to measuring distraction: voluntary and involuntary.
Involuntary distraction is when you fail to suppress non-driving-related stimuli or information. You’re speeding and you’re distracted, and the distraction is as a result of excessive speed. Voluntary distraction is intentional engagement in secondary tasks, such as interacting with your smartphone. We started to measure interactions with the smartphone during a vehicle trip, so we can assess how you’re touching it, swiping it, what you’re doing with it – all during the course of your journey. That way we established what the problem is. Unfortunately, no matter how safe we try to make roads sometimes there will be crashes and incidents. But with the data collected globally from our base of insurers, from all of the shared data, from the billions of kilometres of driving data we’ve collected, and the analysis that we have done, we are able to accurately predict what the causation of most crashes is.”

You contextualize the data, look at the underlying behaviour. Now, what can you do to change and influence driver behaviour?
Mohsin: “We use this data to ensure that distraction is minimized. From our perspective, it’s about measurement, actionable feedback and then creating that ecosystem to drive behaviour change. Vitality Drive (of Discovery Insure) for instance, created a whole value ecosystem around rewards and gamification to reward safe driving. Our methods follow similar thinking – for example, the DriveWell platform’s feedback and engagement methodologies. We’ve recently launched the LA’s Safest Driver with one of our partners and did the same in Boston, San Antonio and Seattle. It’s all about appropriately incentivizing drivers to improve their driving behaviour.”

Could you share some of the results?
Mohsin: “They’re pretty compelling: 30 days after enrolment in our DriveWell platform we could see 35% reduction in phone distraction and a 20% reduction in hard braking and speeding. Moreover, our competitions in Boston, Seattle and San Antonio resulted in respectively 47%, 35% and 29% decrease in distraction after three months of driving. We continue to work with our customers and partners to reach as many drivers as possible and make roads safer in as many places as we can.”

That’s a great validation of your approach. Obviously, telematics is an excellent tool for prevention, but prevention isn’t always possible, so you’re focussing on the next most important thing.
Mohsin: “It’s all about the safety and well-being of your loved ones. We want to go beyond the basic telematics solution, which has been talked to death. Using AI, we can improve much more; from preventing distraction to improving claims handling. We cover all of this in a complete mobile insurance platform. This solution not only improves driver behaviour, but also assists insurers in pricing, retention, crash and claims. We for instance work with partners around FNOL and provide very detailed analytics around crash reports. This has been picked up by many insurers already.”

One of the ways in which you approach this, is the creation of a virtual feedback loop …
Mohsin: “The more data we have, the better our processes become, the more refined our actuarial scoring becomes, the more influence we have around trips, the more we can do, the more accuracy we have around predictive analytics, crash detection and crash prevention. For instance, when an accident occurs, the force of the accident alerts our partner Discovery Insure and they immediately send help.

All the data in the telematics-based crash report is automatically generated and sent to the insurer. There’s nothing manual about this. At the moment of impact, our algorithms will take the data from the centres and all of this will be sent automatically to the insurance centre.”

That’s especially interesting when you consider that, historically, there has always been a perception that telematics is a niche service for high-risk drivers.

Mohsin: “We’re past the days of the on-board dongle with its high hardware cost, its installation cost, where you really needed a significant size of premium to be able to justify that product. Our research shows that safety is a service is now a primary consideration for 65% of drivers.”

So do you think then that an aftermarket telematics tech product installed in a vehicle is completely useless at this point and it really needs to go towards the mobile app?
Mohsin: “I think we all believe that the connected car is here; the connected car as being your connection to the world. Why would we not; we always have our mobile phone with us! People I know have driven 20 miles and then returned home because they forgot their phone. And these are people with no friends that no one will ever call!
Dongles introduce a significant barrier to adoption, which is obviously a big deal for insurers. But suppose insurers can share a smartphone product with their customers. A product without friction for the customer to have that installed; so that the customer does not have to wait for three hours on a Friday afternoon waiting for a man in a van to come round and install a hardware dongle. You just download it from the App Store one time, you set up, you’re ready to go.”

So, it’s in fact quite simple for insurers to make drivers better and make roads safer?Mohsin: “We need to understand that drivers are scared of other drivers ‘distraction. There is a way to deal with this. Engagement helps with safety. It’s not about that insurers should work with telematics. It’s about insurers finding the right model that works for them.”

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