Distractology 101

May 25, 2012

Last Friday, we posted a video of Tim Thomas testing the Distractology simulator. This week we are interviewing Katie Rush of Arbella Mutual Insurance. Katie joined Arbella in 2010 as a Marketing Support Coordinator. She assists the agencies with promoting the simulator to community.

1) How did Distractology 101 begin?

John Donohue, chairman, president and CEO of the Arbella Insurance Group and chairman and president of the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundationbegan to see an increase in the number of incidents young drivers were having and decided to research it further. Dr. Fisher {Professor and Department Head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at UMass Amherst} had been researching distracted driving for a long time; focused on drivers with 0-3 years of experience {inexperienced operators}. He created a simulator in his lab at UMass Amherst. It was a real car with three large screens in front of it, to display the simulations. John saw this simulator and believed this would be a great tool to educate young drivers. In order to maximize the number of people we could get to, he had an idea to mobilize the simulator. His idea was to build a simulator in a trailer, make it mobile, travel New England to reach more inexperienced drivers. John and Dr. Fisher both have a goal to create awareness and educate inexperienced drivers of the dangers of distracted driving.

2) How successful has the program been?

When we started, we didn’t know what the response would be from the agents and the communities. With the help of the agents, we were able to generate awareness in the communities and create a lot of awareness. Students take a lot away from Distractology 101; they take it seriously.

At the end of the course, we take a survey of young drivers who completed the course; we ask the question, “Would you recommend to friends?”

64% of young drivers would recommend to friends in 2010.

75% of young drivers would recommend to friends in 2011.

The interest is increasing which heightens awareness around distracted driving. Students will also be more inclined to talk about it with their peers. Not ALL teens can complete the program, but as word spreads, there will be an increased awareness to be safe drivers.

To put that in perspective, across all industries, the average response for the question “would you recommend to friends” is 16%. Anything above 50% is excellent.

3) Who has shown interest in using the Distractology Trailer?

We have a long list of agents. I’ve received calls from students, parents, driving schools, high schools, colleges and news programs. Not only around from around New England but across the United States. In fact, we were on the Today Show in 2010 when Meredith Viera went through the simulator. We have also been on Fox News and many other local news outlets. You can view our press coverage here: http://www.distractu.com/Press.... We had many calls, but we haven’t been able to make them all work because of timing. We currently give priority to our agencies, because it was created to partner with them.

4) What does it take to run the program?

In order to have a successful week, it takes a lot of work from the agencies. I work with each agency to help them create a week that will make a difference. Each week is very different. I give advice to the agencies on what has worked for us in the past and help customize marketing materials. The agencies do the hard work in getting the seats filled. It takes a lot of effort to reach out to local schools to partner with and set up with them, or reach out to their community and insured’s to help spread the word. The key is to get the kids signed up and in the seats. Word of mouth is really a key marketing tactic. Speaking with the parents about the benefits, helps gets the kids in the seats. When the kids start to go through then they tell their friends about it. We use other materials such as posters, postcards, handouts, telephone calls, videos, etc. Anyway the agency can saturate the community with Distractology and what it is.

5) What do the statistics say about distracted driving? What constitutes as distracted driving?

According to the US Department of Transportation, in 2009 20% of injury crashes involved reports of distracted driving. Nearly 5,500 people were killed in 2009 and over half a million injured due to distracted driving. According to the Univerity of Utah, using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-help or hands-free, delays a driver’s reaction time just as much as having a blood alcohol concentaration at the legal limit of .08 percent. This is an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away and we want to make sure everyone is educated on how dangerous it really is. It only takes a split second.


US Department of Transportation

20% of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. (Source: NHTSA)

Nearly 5,500 people in the U.S. were killed and almost half a million were injured in accidents related to distracted driving in 2009. Eighteen percent of those fatal accidents involved the use of a cell phone. (Source: FARS and GES)

The age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the under-20 age group – 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving. (Source: NHTSA)

Nearly one in three young adults texts while driving (Source: Consumer ReportsNational Research Center study)

Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (Source: University of Utah)

Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. (Source: Carnegie Mellon)

Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

The National Safety Council

Studies have shown little or no documented difference between the risk associated with handheld and hands-free devices. These studies indicate the distraction comes from the conversation, not holding the phone. (Source: University of Utah)

The annual cost of crashes caused by cell phone use is estimated at $43 billion (Source: Harvard Center for Risk Analysis).

Cell Phone Laws as of March 2011 (Governors Highway Safety Association)

Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Eleven of these laws were enacted in 2010. An additional eight states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.

The Massachusetts ban on texting while driving went into effect September 30, 2010.

A jurisdiction-wide ban on driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone is in place in seven states: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

6) How concerned are you about Distracted Driving?

VERY! Because I work so closely with this program, it is constantly on my mind when I am driving. I have a long commute every day and see at least one person daily texting or looking at their phone and not paying attention. I have seen evern worse. Putting on mascara, reading a book/newspaper, eating, and even people with dogs on their laps. All of these things are taking our mind off what should be the main focus, driving.

7) What should I tell a student who thinks there’s nothing to Distracted Driving?

Take the Distractology 101 challenge! They might think differently. A lot of kids will think they’re good at it, but they’re not as aware as they think they are. Read the news stories. I heard one the other day, a girl was texting on phone, swerved, hit someone, and killed them. It took just a second. Is the text you are responding to or reading really as important as a life? If it’s that important to read or respond, pull over. If you can’t get into the simulator than anyone can try out the learning challenge to see how well they do. You might be surprised at the results: http://www.distractu.com/Learning.aspx

8) How many students have gone through the program?

Since the launch of the program in April 2010, we have had over 4,000 students go through Distractology 101.

9) Have you gone through the program?

I tried and I crashed! It only took a second! I thought that I am an experienced driver, so I would do ok. I think I got one letter out when I was trying to text. When I took the online learning challenge it was a real eye opener. I couldn’t believe how oblivious I was to something going on that was right in front of me (don’t want to give it away). I Parents watch and are faced with the reality of their young driver’s actions and almost learn just as much as their kid.

10) Any closing thoughts?

I love working with Distractology 101, it’s a great program, and I truly believe in it. The more students and young drivers become aware of the dangers of distracted driving, the more we can affect people, they will decide not to text & drive. Distracted driving is getting worse & becoming a bigger issue. Arbella wants to get the message out because of the harsh consequences. It’s all about education, and it’s an important message.

Thank you for your time Katie. We appreciate it and we appreciate what Arbella is doing to get the word out. We are hosting the Distractology 101 at our office in Bourne: Murray & MacDonald Insurance Services, Inc, 550 MacArthur Blvd, Bourne, MA 02532
The simulator will be parked at the above location from June 4th – June 8th. We are currently taking reservations. If you or someone you know wants to sign up, please call us at: 800.800.8990 OR email us at: murmac@mmisi.com. You can ask for Kelly or Sara {that’s me}. You can also email me at: smacdonald@mmisi.com.

If you want to learn more about Distractology 101 you can visit the website at www.distractu.com.
Check out Paul Pierce and Tim Thomas try their hand at Distractology 101.

Links to Distracted Driving press: