Do We Really Care About Texting While Driving? How To Implement Real Social Change!

by Hank Coleman

No texting while drivingDo we as a society really care about texting while driving? Or, do we simply pay lip service to the dangers? I am of the belief that Americans look the other way and really do not care about people who are texting while driving. Despite it being illegal in 38 states across America, we have done little to nothing to stop the rising trend.

A survey released by State Farm in November 2012 found that 68% of drivers ages 18 to 29 text while driving, up from 64% last year, and 48% of them access websites from behind the wheel. Even though 76% of teens between the ages of 14 and 17 agree that motorists risk their lives by texting while driving and 93% believe that an accident is inevitable among drivers who text, we still do little or nothing to change our behavior.

Another study found that 37% of drivers over the last two years admit to reading updates from social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter while driving, and 33% update their status while driving.

Using a handheld device while driving increases your likelihood of an accident by over four times the regular rate of having an accident. So, how do we implement real social change? Do we even want to change? I know one way that we can really make a change in America to society. Hit people where it hurts! In their wallets!!

Why We’ll Never Stop Texting While Driving

Simply knowing that something is dangerous is not enough to change our habits. It is ingrained in our very fabric of society. We don’t want to change, and nothing is forcing us to change our ways. There is no incentive to change. But, what if the financial penalty for texting while driving forces us to change our behavior? In Virginia, reckless driving is a misdemeanor which goes on your permanent criminal record and carries a maximum fine of $2500 and up to 1 year in jail. Small penalties like the ones in Virginia are not making a dent in the issue. If you want to teach people a lesson, car insurance companies should refuse to payout a claim for accidents caused by texting while driving or even caused by DUI and other illegal activities for that matter. That would get an immediate and dramatic reaction.

The results of a car insurance company denying a claim would be dramatic and devastating that would trickle down to second and third order effects.  The effects would ripple through the parties’ lives. Victims would sue perpetrators  Those responsible could see themselves financially ruined and possibly have to declare bankruptcy. I know what you are probably thinking. That is super harsh, and it is. But, how many national stories would it take of the devastating effects for it to hit home across American and affect serious change? It wouldn’t take many. Unfortunately, the first few would feel the brunt before the rest of us got the message that this is truly a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Why The Car Insurance Companies Can’t Help Much

Car insurance companies are doing as much as they can to help drivers break the habit of texting while driving. They are in the forefront and industry leaders in public service campaigns, sponsoring school education programs, and the like. But, unfortunately their efforts have not be enough in the past to stem the tide that has be building. That’s why I asked the hard question about denying car insurance claims.

Since I’ve been blogging a long time and have friends throughout the community, I asked few contacts at USAA and the insurance world about texting while driving, DUIs, and paying claims for illegal activities. Here’s what they had to say…

Why do car insuarnce companies pay a claim for damage caused by an illegal act? For example, if I am texting while driving which is illegal in NC and wreck my car, USAA and other insurance companies will still pay my claim. Why? Why not take a stand and deny the claim in an effort to change drivers’ behavior for the greater good? The same could be said for DUI.

And, USAA’s Director of Military Communications and spokesman, John Hancock replied, “Auto insurance is designed, and priced, to cover for covered losses from an ‘accident’, not from ‘intentional’ acts. Although certain actions in the vehicle may be illegal, such as texting while driving in certain locations, usually the driver wasn’t intentionally trying to cause the accident. Although this is risky behavior, and illegal in some cases, the resulting accident was still not considered intentional.”

“At the time of the reported accident, investigations associated with any potential illegals acts, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol, are still ongoing and could take many months or even years to prosecute. In the mean time, it is the responsibility of the insurance company to pay for any covered repairs from the accident in a reasonable time frame,” said Hancock.

And…“Lastly, even if insurance companies were to include a provision in the auto insurance contract that excludes coverage from accidents caused by illegal acts, in many cases it would be very difficult for the insurance company to prove the illegal act and the direct causation to the accident.”

The response from Michael Berry, Vice President of the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), to me was also along the same lines as USAA. He told me, “A standard auto insurance policy’s exclusions, meaning circumstances under which a policy will not pay out, usually focus on instances in which an intentional act caused either bodily injury or property damage. Accidents caused by a motorist who was either texting or driving under the influence are generally covered by insurance policies because they are deemed unintentional acts, even though law-breaking may have contributed to the incident.”

The Insurance Information Institute is like an insurance industry specific think tank which is a source of information, analysis, and referral concerning insurance matters.

USAA, the insurance company and financal services giant, is spearheading distracted driving education awareness program this year. They are sponsoring safe-driving pilot programs and recently a Distracted Driving Summit in Florida. USAA believes that while people acknowledge that they know distracted driving and texting while driving is dangerous, they are actually willing to change their habits. According to studies cited on distraction.gov:

  • Distracted driving killed 3,092 people nationwide and injured approximately 416,000 in 2010 alone.
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
  • Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.

You can read the USAA Educational Foundation brochure about distracted driving and take the pledge at: https://www.usaaedfoundation.org/Safety/safety_566_distracted_driving

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About Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the founder of Money Q&A, an Iraq combat veteran, a Dr. Pepper addict, and a self-proclaimed investing junkie. He has written extensively for many nationally known financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and is currently pursuing his Certified Financial Planner credentials. Email him directly at Hank[at]MoneyQandA.com.


Hank Coleman has written 524 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

John S @ Frugal Rules

Good post Hank! I tend to think that it won’t change as the “penalty” really does not scare many people. I know both of my younger brothers text while driving, even after one of their friends was hurt in a car accident while doing so. They’ve even done studies showing that it’s as bad as driving drunk. I think hitting people in their wallets is a great idea, though I don’t even know if that would cause a change.
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Hank Coleman

You’re probably right, John, that it won’t change many people’s behavior. But, maybe it would be worth a try. Not much else is working. I have heard like you mentioned that texting is as bad as being drunk…like being sleepy. You’re just as inefficient and not alert behind the wheel at all of those activities.
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Christian L.

Hank,
It’s unbelievably dangerous to me to text and drive. I loathe being a passenger in a friend’s car when they pull out their phone and state at it. I feel like I should punish them for risking my life! Usually, I’ll tell them I won’t ride with them anymore.

At the same time, I’ll often hear my phone go off while driving and hand it to my passenger to read my text and sometimes even respond if it’s urgent. Plus, it’s funny to see my friends figure out how to text on my old phone.

-Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

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Hank Coleman

Great point Christian. Another reader told me over email that it was like the reaction of Pavlov’s dog. Great analogy! We can’t help but respond to the text message sound now. It’s engrained.
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Edward Antrobus

I can see the insurance companies’ point. Technically, almost all accidents are caused by some sort of illegal act. If they didn’t pay out for an accident caused by texting, should they for one caused by speeding? Running a red light? Following too close?

Plus, if the insurance company doesn’t pay, that’s going to hurt the victim of the accident as well. If some college student totals my car, they aren’t going to be able to pay.
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Hank Coleman

That’s a great point about running a red light or following too close. I guess that if you deny one claim for an illegal act, you would set yourself up for lawsuits if you don’t follow suit on all illegal acts like running a red light or following too close. Great points! Maybe they could write texting and DUI strictly out of their policies as coverable offenses.
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Grayson @ Debt Roundup

Great post Hank. I think there should be a stiffer penalty, but even though it is illegal, it will never stop people. Drinking while driving is illegal, but they still do it.
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Hank Coleman

You are absolutely right. You’ll never stop it, but if we make the penalties for both so bad with insurance companies denying claims, we have a great chance of deterring both at a more significant rate.
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Mary Rhodes

It scares me people don’t care about this enough! I know in Australia for example the penalties are really strict. They’ll take your driving permit off you for 6 months!

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Hank Coleman

I like that idea of taking away your license for such a long time. That would be a good deterrent too.
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Julie @ Freedom 48

I’m firmly against texting while driving. After seeing studies done showing that someone texting is MORE impared than someone driving drunk, I realized that there’s no excuse for it. The worst part is that if a texter causes an accident… they can kill an innocent victim. I don’t hesitate to speak up with I see someone texting while driving. I refuse to ride with someone who insists on texting, and if it’s another driver on the road I’ll get their attention and ask them to put their phone away. there’s no excuse for it. Pull off the road if you need to send/receive an urgent text! Otherwise, it can wait until you get to your destination.
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Sarah Park

Car insurance companies have the right to refuse on the accidents due to texting while driving. Drivers get too abusive and do not think of the consequences they might get into due to being irresponsible.
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Hank Coleman

Why they may have the right to refuse to pay a claim, the car insurance companies won’t in almost every case as the industry insiders said in the quotes above in this article.
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Bryan

Perhaps they should look into a hardware/softare solution, rather than a penalty solution. See what cell phone makers can come up with. Using the cameras, GPS, and accelerometer they might be able to detect if you are in the driver seat, and moving. If it can figure that out, then it locks you out of texting until certain conditions are met.

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