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The Risk Institute Distracted Driving

The Risk Institute at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business is leading a nationwide initiative comprised of dozens of companies, government entities, and researchers seeking to combine leading-edge research with industry expertise in order to predict and curb distracted driving behaviors. The project officially kicked off on Wednesday, February 22 at a roundtable discussion at Fisher College of Business.

“Distracted driving is an epidemic across the country. Every day you hear ‘distracted driving is killing people,’ and it is, but nothing is being done to figure out how to stop it,” says Phil Renaud, Executive Director of the Risk Institute. “That’s why we started this initiative — to create actionable change.”

The number of fatal traffic accidents rose 7.2 percent nationally in 2015 according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. It is the greatest year-over-year increase since 1966. Distracted driving was a factor in about 10 percent of auto deaths; the exact percentage is difficult to determine due to privacy rules and other factors.

“Nationwide Insurance has a long history of promoting safety for our members,” says Larry Thursby, Vice President of Personal Auto Product and Pricing at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. “We recognize that distracted driving is an issue and we’re looking forward to working with a team of professionals from across the country to find solutions that protect families in every community.”

The consortium identified a three-tiered approach: research, legislation, and technology.

Michael LaRocco, president and CEO of State Auto Insurance Cos., says that collaboration is the reason partnerships between industry, research, and government are crucial to a project like this saying, “This isn’t a problem that will be solved by legislation, research or technology alone. That’s why we’re working directly with researchers to apply their research to everything from car design and manufacturing to insurance, and using new technology to our advantage.”

Practical research application is a crucial component of this initiative, particularly behavioral research.

“Understanding what makes people do what they do is the first step to changing that behavior,” says Ellen Peters, Professor of Psychology at The Ohio State University. “At a dangerous curve in the UK, for example, they played with drivers’ peripheral vision. As drivers approach the curve, they see trees planted next to the road at decreasing distances apart. This funnel of trees creates a visual illusion that tricks drivers into feeling as if they’re speeding. As a result, people slow down.”

Renaud highlighted the Risk Institute’s involvement in bringing this project and all the involved partners together saying, “We are uniquely positioned to facilitate valuable conversation between academics and practitioners. The Risk Institute is rooted in research, dedicated to education, and committed to collaboration. This initiative is the perfect amalgamation of those values, and we are so excited to get started.”

Industry partners involved with the project are Honda Inc., Aon Benfield, Nationwide, NiSource, Ford, Motorists Insurance, DHL, State Auto, Freer Logic, True North and others. Representing the legal and governmental branches are the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Department of Insurance. Ohio-based Root Insurance, Smart Drive, Greenroad, and eDriving Fleet make up the technology voices in the conversation. A dozen researchers and thought leaders from OSU representing behavioral science, engineering, automotive research, risk and others make up the research arm of the initiative.