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Using Hands-Free Devices While Driving Not So Risky

Written by Virginia Tech Transportation Department, originally published by Insurance Journal

New research suggests that drivers who use hands-free electronic devices, as opposed to handheld ones, are not increasing their risk of getting into a crash.

According to the research from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), with hands-free technology, drivers can make calls and perform a variety of other tasks while still keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

“Any activity that places either visual or manual demands on the driver — texting, browsing or dialing a hand-held phone, for instance — substantially increases crash risk. However, our recent study has found that the primarily cognitive secondary task of talking on a hands-free device does not appear to have any detrimental effects,” said Tom Dingus, director of VTTI and the principal investigator of the study.

The researchers sought to determine the extent to which crash risk could be affected by primarily mental behaviors, known as cognitive distractions. Cognitive distractions occupy the mind but do not require the driver to look away from the road or remove his or her hands from the wheel. Examples include interacting with a passenger, singing in the car, talking on a hands-free cell phone, and dialing on a hands-free phone via voice-activated software.

Dingus and the research team analyzed video footage of 3,454 drivers, 905 crashes (including 275 more serious crashes), and 19,732 control periods of “normal driving” for instances of cognitive distraction. For comparison, they also studied examples of drivers performing visual and manual activities, such as texting on a hand-held phone or adjusting the radio.

They used video and other sensor data from the Second Strategic Highway Research Program naturalistic driving study, the largest light-vehicle study of its kind ever conducted.

Drivers who used a hand-held phone increased their crash risk by 2 to 3.5 times compared to model drivers, defined as being alert, attentive, and sober. When a combination of cognitive secondary tasks was observed, the crash risk also went up, although not to nearly the same degree. In some cases, hands-free cell phone use was associated with a lower crash rate than the control group. None of the 275 more serious property damage and injury crashes analyzed were associated with the use of hands-free systems.

“There are a number of reasons why using a hands-free device could keep drivers more engaged and focused in certain situations,” said Dingus. “One is that the driver looks forward more during the conversation. Although engaging in the conversation could cause a small amount of delay in cognitive processing, the driver is still more likely be looking in the direction of a precipitating event, such as another car stopping or darting in front suddenly. The phone conversation could also serve as a countermeasure to fatigue on longer road trips. Perhaps most importantly, a driver who is talking on a hands-free phone is less likely to engage in manual texting/browsing/dialing and other much higher-risk behaviors.”

On Feb. 5, state lawmakers in Virginia passed legislation that aims to make holding a cell phone while driving illegal.

“VTTI’s research has shown consistently that activities requiring a driver to take his or her eyes off of the forward roadway, such as texting or dialing on a handheld phone, pose the greatest risk. It is also important to note that in many newer cars, the driver can do some tasks hands-free using well-designed interfaces. Giving the driver an option to use a safer system will help with compliance for a new law and lead to fewer distraction-related crashes,” said Dingus.

Eight-hundred and forty-three people died on Virginia roads in 2017, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Of these, 208 fatalities and 14,656 injuries were attributed to distracted driving, an 18.2 percent increase from 2016. Texting/cell phone use was cited as one of the top three causes.

Source: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

Reality of Texting for Insurance Agencies

Written by Patricia Alexander, CIC, originally published by Agents Council for Technology (ACT).

During every meeting I have attended in the last few months, there have been questions and discussions on “should an agency allow texting by its clients and staff and if so, how do we control errors and omissions and documentation in our agency management system?”

Empowered clients are going to communicate with agents in the manner most convenient to them, so the real issue becomes how is the agency going to manage texting if the client prefers to use it?

In this article, I discuss several concerns agencies have with texting, current “best practices” for managing these communications, and the technology options for managing texts and importing them into your systems as I understand them. There may be other options and not everyone uses Microsoft Outlook. Your technology professional should be able to assist you with the details.

Agency Concerns

If clients are texting staff members on their personal phone, a number of issues come to my mind:

  • What if your staff member is on vacation where their phone is not functioning or they are just too busy to take care of the issue?

  • What if your staff member is ill and not able to pay attention to incoming messages on a real-time basis?

  • What if the individual is actually no longer a staff member?

  • What if the individual says they will take care of the request and does, but doesn't document in the system and something is not correct?

I have heard more than one agency principal flatly state that they weren't going to allow any texting. Others don't see any way to stop people from texting but don't know what to do with it and how to set parameters. A number of people commented that it was seamless to attach an email, voicemail or other documentation in their agency management system, but not so texts.

Since it is difficult to manage the capture of the text information, they want to ban receiving texts. We need to remember that capturing email information in an agency management system was not always easy.

Once upon a time we copied the emails and pasted them into an activity or note since we couldn't attach anything to our agency management systems.

Through communication with the various agency management vendors from their user groups, the vendors enhanced their systems to handle email attachments. From this grew the ability to easily attach various other attachments and we hope vendors will create streamlined workflows for capturing texts as well, possibly as a part of their mobile apps.

The initial attachment functions were "clunky", but as time and technology have progressed, this function has become more streamlined.

In today’s world, texting is a reality. It is not only your young clients that are engaging in this act. Texting eliminates telephone tag, and results in an almost instant response. This is what many of us are programmed to want.

Current "Best Practices" 

I recommend you consider taking the following approach with regard to exiting:

  • Do you want to be relevant to your client base? If so, then you must embrace this technology.

  • Set standards and best practices. These really are no different than handling face-to-face conversations, phone calls, emails, etc. Your standard should be that all conversations with the client or with others about the client’s account are to be documented in the agency management system or the system which you are using to collect client data.

  • Be pro-active and determine how to best receive texts at the agency level and educate your staff and clients.

  • If your client and someone in your agency are friends, inevitably there will be a text on a person phone. Define, train and implement the process to get this moved to an agency level as quickly as possible.

I don’t see that there is any more of an errors and omissions exposure in receiving and responding to texts than there are in phone calls, emails or face-to-face conversations. The biggest issue I believe agencies have at this time is how to make this format work for them as seamlessly as possible.

Forwarding Texts to Email

Here are some thoughts I have on this process that I have picked up from users who have already addressed this issue:

  • As soon as the initial text is received on a personal phone, forward it to your business email address. Text a response back to the client from your business Outlook account. The client's text response will come back into the email which will let you accumulate the stream of the conversation which can then be attached to the agency management system.

  • Some phones will allow you to capture an entire text conversation. In this case it could be acceptable that the conversation continue on that phone and then be captured and sent to the business email address for attachment into the agency management system. This would be the best approach when the conversation is just a question and answer session.

  • It is important for everyone in the agency to learn how their specific phone works for text forwarding:

    a. iPhone - Click here for a quick overview of how to forward text messages. Another approach is to take a picture of your iPhone screen when the text is showing, by pressing the on/off button on the top of the phone simultaneously with the application change button on the bottom front of the phone. This approach creates an image of the entire text message and the picture can then be emailed to your Outlook account.

    b. Android Phones - Each manufacturer handles this in a different way and I find even some differences within a manufacturer between their phones. It is best to check the operating information for your specific phone for this function.

Sending Texts from Email

Microsoft Outlook can be used as a tool to manage text messaging with your client. There are several steps to setting up and implementing the use of Microsoft Outlook. However, like anything else that you do, if you invest the time to research, implement and train a process, the rewards will be great.

The best place to start the research is on the web -- Set Up text messaging (SMS) in Outlook.

Microsoft has done a really good job here of explaining the options available for using Outlook and providing lots of screen shots.

Implementing an Agency Text Address

I also recommend that the agency implement a way to receive text messages directly.

I understand from my tech friends that many VoiP phone systems can have a number set up for receipt of text messages. I am also advised that this works differently with every system and that you will need to work with your phone system provider to get this set up and implemented.

Once set up, someone in your agency will need to monitor this number during business hours so that the expected immediate response can be managed.

If your agency does not have a VoiP system, another option available for receiving texts at a number that you control is to set up a Google Voice number. In the Settings section of your Google Voice account, you will find a place to show the email address for Text Forwarding.

When you receive these text messages, they should then be forwarded to the Outlook email address of the individual in your agency who will be handling this client. Once the number is set up, you should promote it to your clients, so that those who want to communicate in this manner can do so.

When agency employees receive text messages on their phones, they should let that individual also know there is a number that is attended during business hours and would get attention even when the employee is not available.

Finally, some important points about texting to keep in mind:

  • If the client texted you, that is how they would like to communicate, so at least your initial response should be in a text.

  • If the client texted you, they expect an immediate response as that is what the common expectation is with texting.

  • Your employees should know the agency’s procedures for documenting text messages in the agency’s system, just as they would other communications from clients and business partners.

Patricia Alexander, CIC, is a consultant, coach and mentor with many years of experience in retail agency and MGA settings. Click here to contact Pat. Alexander developed this article for the Agents Council for Technology (ACT), part of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.

Automation, algorithms and robots... oh my!

Helpful robot

If ‘the cloud’ strikes fear in your heart and the mere mention of ‘artificial intelligence’ conjures up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a leather biker jacket, then keep reading!

Cliché as it might be, the power behind ‘artificial intelligence’ is exciting, life changing, and not something we can run away from.

The real threat to our business (insurance) is ignoring the inevitable -- data is here to stay, and it is only getting smarter.

Artificial intelligence = advanced automation, and it is not a fad.

Automation has been around since Henry Ford’s assembly line.

Technological advancements are making it cheaper, faster and more pervasive than ever.

At this point, if you don’t embrace the pace and understand its importance to our industry's future then, hasta la vista, baby!

Let's remember how we all got here

Close your eyes and let’s take a short journey. . .

It’s 1998.

I have a fire-red Motorola LS550 pager. (I know, awesome, right?)

When I was in high school, a pager was the only direct way for my friends to get ahold of me while I was at work or driving around town.

No one at my high school could afford a cell phone back then, and the adults I knew that had one used it for "emergency purposes only.”

Fast forward 20 years and we all have cell phones.

Hell, some of my friends’ 6-year-olds have cell phones. But this cell phone isn’t the famed Zack Morris version.

Zach Morris talking on old cell phone

It’s a powerful supercomputer that rivals the technology my dad had at work in 1998, at 1/100th of the size.

Pew Research says some 77 percent of Americans own one of these supercomputers (otherwise known as smartphones)!

I rarely use my phone to call people anymore.

I use it to make my life easier. I have apps that enable automation and connection with people around the world in ways that I could not have imagined.

So, if you told me back then -- heck, even just 10 years ago -- that I’d have a robot in my house that vacuums three times a week while I am at work, or that I would adopt technology that allows me to control and monitor the utilities in my house from my phone, I would have never believed it.

You may be thinking, “Who needs that? How lazy are you to not walk downstairs to turn the lights off before you go to bed? Come on!”

Or, it could sound like this, “That’s crazy! What if people are listening to my conversations through my Google Home or Amazon Echo?”

First, you are not that interesting.

So it’s safe to put your the-government-is-spying-on-me tin-foil hat in your back pocket and ask yourself this question:

“Isn’t it more efficient to tell Google that you are ready for bed, and have it lock all the doors, turn off the lights, and set the thermostat to the desired sleeping temperature?”

These automated tasks happen, uninterrupted, while you are doing something more important (like reading a book to your kids before bed).

That is what automation technology movement is all about, efficiency.

By gaining efficiency on mundane tasks, we are left with an option to focus our talent on more value-added tasks.

It isn't too late for our industry

This principle works the same for insurance agency owners and staff.

But don't worry, it’s not too late for the insurance industry to get into the AI game by any stretch.

According to a HBR survey from last year:

Not every business is using AI... yet. While investment in AI is heating up, corporate adoption of AI technologies is still lagging. AI adoption is in its infancy, with just 20 percent... using (some level of) AI technologies at scale.

If you could better understand your business through insightful, automated, timely reporting rather than spending days putting together last quarter’s excel spreadsheet, wouldn’t that be a better use of your time and allow you to spend more time growing your business?

Automated insights through dashboarding is just one facet of technology that the business world has been embracing for decades.

Insurance has been slow to catch up.

In much the same way that a manufacturer shuts down the production line when the red light flashes on the conveyor belt, automated dashboards can give you alerts about your business that allow you to course correct before it is too late.

Or even better, ramp up into something that seems to be working well.

Automation is everywhere, but it doesn’t need to be everything. It just needs to be woven into our daily business routines so we can create a seamless customer experience and improve our existing relationships, then use efficiencies gained through automation to provide us with the time to create new business relationships.

As insurance industry professionals, why not start embracing automation in our daily tasks, to gauge internal performance, review our business results and plan for future growth?

Want to learn more about how OIA can help you harness your agency's data?

Click here

Have an opinion about the Artificial Intelligence movement?

Contact Adam

Will the bots be there when you need them?

Man yelling at red phone

I’ve been reflecting on a tweet published by Lemonade Insurance Company that claimed, “it’s 2018, people would rather talk to a bot than a broker.”

It is a bold (and silly) claim.

My first thought was that this must’ve been written by an out-of-touch computer programmer.

Has the author of that tweet ever been stuck in a “command not recognized” loop when attempting to perform a customer service task using a chatbot or phone bot?

Is Lemonade suggesting that people actually like walking around yelling “representative” into their phone to get some help?

If people would rather talk to a bot, why do these same corporations still employ people to answer their phones when situations escalate?

In their current technological state, bots are incredibly frustrating to deal with.

Admit it, we all push “0” as quickly as possible when we have something we need to explain to another human.

Technology is great, but it can’t replace humans

Artificial intelligence, bots and general technological advancements are awesome for routine, non-consequential transactions.

They make our lives better and safer in so many ways.

However, they cannot replace some human interactions and consequential engagements in a risk management relationship.

Bots aren’t advocates. They are computer-programmed algorithms that only know black and white, zeroes and ones. They are only as strong as the programmer who creates them.

Bots treat you and your unique needs like everyone else that fits a specific profile in its algorithm. Bots use numbers instead of names.

I am not suggesting technology does not have a role in risk advising and management.

It certainly does with routine tasks like compiling underwriting data and aggregating claims information.

It can help us become a safer society and empower agents and consumers to become better informed when managing risk.

It is not, however, the foundation of all that is good in a modern society.

Independent insurance agents offer trusted, professional advice to help protect society’s most valuable assets.

Independent insurance agents are your local advocates when you have a problem. They have your back.

Independent insurance agents are neighbors caring for neighbors.

Independent insurance agents are humans who invest in their local communities.

The independent agency system employs tens of thousands of people in Ohio and is an important component of our state’s economy.

They are invested in their local communities, unlike distant companies that function solely through faceless 800-numbers, and spend millions on advertising and trademarking cartoon characters.

The next time you are thinking about replacing your trusted, professional risk advisor with a nameless, faceless bot on the East Coast, ask yourself:

  • Who will be there in your time of need?

  • How many local events did the bot attend?

  • Do they live in your neighborhood and care if it’s restored after a disaster?

  • Do they even know (or care about) your name?

Most importantly, ask if the bot will be there to stand by your side and tell you it will all be ok while your house is burning down, business is flooded, or car is totaled.

The truth is that while technology has a lot of shiny, distracting appeal, it can never replace a hand on your shoulder to comfort or one to pull you up when you’re down.

As true as the sun will rise and set each day, you can count on your independent agent to be there in good times, bad times and everything in between.

Don't have an independent insurance agent?

Find yours today at TrustedChoice.com!

Visit TrustedChoice.com

Agents: Voice your opinion and help make a difference for IAs!

This fall brings you a unique opportunity to voice your opinion about carrier best practices.

OIA has launched a 17-question survey that allows you to rate your commercial lines carriers’ use of technology. Take the survey.

This survey is the second part of a series that will provide you with meaningful benchmarks to facilitate communication between you and your carriers.

The first survey, launched in the summer, focused on personal lines carrier technology. Check out the results.

The more agents who respond, the more valuable the results, so please be sure to complete your survey by Nov. 14. The survey is open to all agency staff.

Join us in making this a beneficial project for the independent agency system and our carrier partners!

Questions? Feel free to reach out to Megan Smith, OIA’s Company Partners Manager, at (614) 552-3064.

Begin survey

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