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Distracted driving behaviors have increased during the pandemic. Are the bosses to blame?

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One in four drivers think roads are safer today than they were before the pandemic, but a growing number of drivers are texting or emailing while driving – in part because more of them they feel obligated to be available for their work wherever they are.

The Travelers Companies announced the results of its 2021 Distracted Driving Risk Index, a national survey of more than 1,000 consumers and business leaders.

Respondents reported their dangerous driving behaviors, including:

  • Sending SMS or e-mail (26%, compared to 19% before the pandemic).
  • Social media check (20%, up from 13% before the pandemic).
  • Take videos and photos (19%, compared to 10% before the pandemic).
  • Online shopping (17%, compared to 8% before the pandemic).
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The insurer claims that such driving behavior may have contributed in part to more dangerous roads. Motor vehicle fatalities increased 8% in 2020 from 2019 – the highest percentage increase in 13 years, according to the National Safety Council.

“Traffic volumes were lower during the first days of the pandemic, which may have given drivers a false sense of security,” said Chris Hayes, second vice president of workers’ compensation and transportation, control of risks, at Travelers.

Hayes said not only has distracted driving increased, but speeding has also become more common, according to data from telematics product from insurer IntelliDrive.

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Additional results suggest that many people may feel increased pressure to always be available for their work. This year, 48% of business leaders say they expect employees to frequently answer work-related calls, texts or emails, up from 43% before the pandemic.

One in four respondents said they answered calls and texts related to work at the wheel, citing the following reasons:

  • 46% said it could be an emergency.
  • 29% said their supervisor would be upset if they didn’t respond.
  • 22% said they were unable to mentally stop working.
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Yet, compared to the results of the 2020 Traveler Risk Index, more employers are concerned about liability related to distracted driving. More than a quarter (27%) said they were very concerned about their liability if an employee was involved in an accident due to distracted driving, up from 21% before the pandemic.

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The Traveler Institute is hosting a virtual event today at 1 p.m. ET to explore the psychology behind distracted driving. “The Art and Science of Behavior Change” will bring together injury prevention and public health communication experts to discuss messages that can encourage individuals to make safer choices.

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