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We are turning smartphones into dumbphones

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POSTED February 22, 2017 1:09 a.m.

Smartphones are getting less and less expensive.
But don’t think you’re freeing up extra cash in your household budget.
That’s because auto insurance rates keep going up and up.
The average national auto insurance rate had been dropping from 2000 to 2009 when it reached about $780. Then it started a steady uninterrupted climb to reach $926 in 2016.
The first smartphone rolled out nearly 10 years ago. The majority of Americans were using them by 2011. Is it just a coincidence that skyrocketing smartphone use has been matched by skyrocketing insurance rates?
No, it is not.
Various studies from the National Traffic Safety Administration to the National Safety Council gleaned accident claim statistics and found there is a strong correlation between accidents and distracted driving with smartphone use where drivers text, use apps, access the Internet or even do old-fashioned talking on the phone while behind the wheel.
Making this all ironic is how the advance of technology on vehicles from smart braking systems, automatic parking programs, rear view cameras for backing up and tech driven vehicle construction changes had been reducing accidents, injuries, deaths, and property losses on our roads. There were even predictions 10 years ago the accident rate would keep dropping.
The opposite has happened.
Why? The answer is simple. We have a nasty habit of misusing technology.
If we were as focused as the technology that we employ whether it is an iPhone or a Tesla, they’d be no problems.
And don’t think that “true” driverless car technology will help.
There is little doubt engineers working at Alphabet, Tesla, General Motors, Ford, and Toyota are capable of producing autonomous vehicles. They work extremely well on closed tracks and even look more than promising on the road.
But here’s the rub. It will never be a universal fool-proof system given there are 3.9 million miles of public roads alone in this country in different terrain and such. Even if it relied on satellite technology instead of roadside markers or programming to “read” conditions via radar systems, nothing is 100 percent and noting operates 100 percent of the time.
And while you could argue that would still significantly reduce carnage and fender benders, you are forgetting one very major detail — humans.
There was all sorts of predictions how the Internet would lift mankind. Yet year after year by far the top use of searches is for adult content.
Time and time again the end users — humans — manage to find ways to deploy, abuse, or marginalize the promised lofty goals of technology.
If you don’t think the same won’t happen with so-called driverless cars, guess again.
The success of hackers alone should give you pause.
If some 17-year-old can hack into a power grid system for fun what makes you think driverless cars will be bullet proof. If the Pentagon can be hacked a Telsa would be child’s play.
I know. I know. Such incidents are far and few between. But what about spyware, ID theft, and viruses that attack the Average Joe’s computers every second of every day?
No one would do such a thing to auto control systems for criminal purposes or just because they can, right? If you believe that you are human as it is flawed logic given how people are abusing technology and compromising it for personal, gain, for fun, because they are bored, or do so for anti-social reasons.
But until the day arrives that we can debate those points with the majority of cars on the road being “driverless,” let’s look at what is happening now.
Back in 2006, 72 percent of all automobile premiums paid in a year’s time went to pay claims and related expenses. The balance went to overhead, investing as a hedge against future claims, and profit. Today that is at 85 percent. Smartphone ownership among drivers has gone from 52 percent in 2011 to 89 percent in 2015.
Ten percent of the more than 6 million auto accidents that happened in 2016 were attributed to distracted driving with smartphone use by far the leading distraction.
This is also leading to bigger claims. Insurance companies, such as Cincinnati Financial Corp., are reporting more and more claims involve accidents with no skid marks. That means drivers didn’t react to an impending collision — a hallmark of distracted driving. No skid marks translates into costlier damages and a major upswing in serious injuries and deaths.
There have been an average $150 per year  increase per policyholder since smartphone ownership among drivers surged past the 50 percent mark in 2011.
That easily wipes out what consumers have pocketed from dropping smartphone prices.
So if you want to be smart in terms of finances and safety don’t turn your smartphone into a dumbphone when you are driving.
Resist using it while driving. It’s amazing but people as little as 20 years ago didn’t have to be connected 24/7 and actually viewed driving as their sole task when they were piloting a 4,000 pound weapon down the road.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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