On the Road

Distracted Driving Is Something We Can All Live Without

Distracted drivingAmerican Family Insurance strongly encourages safe driving practices, and we want to lead by example. This spring, we’ve instituted a cell phone usage policy that basically states employees may not use a cell phone or other mobile device to perform work when operating a motor vehicle. Hands-free devices are not encouraged but allowed if for essential company business if not in violation of local laws.

I helped develop that policy after seeing compelling research that provides strong proof that the use of cell phones while driving is a significant distraction to drivers.

To be honest, I thought the few seconds it takes to text, scan a message or have a conversation on a cell phone while driving was relatively harmless. After all, I’m an experienced driver. I was capable of multitasking. I felt I was doing pretty well by limiting where and when I used my cell phone while driving.

After I read the National Safety Council (NSA) research on the hazards of a distracted brain, that all changed.

These were the top three shockers from the report:

Multitasking is a myth. Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain switches between one task and another. Brains can do this very rapidly which leads us to erroneously believe we are doing two tasks at the same time.

The brain not only juggles tasks, it juggles focus and attention. When people attempt to perform two complex tasks at the same time such as driving and talking on a phone, the brain shifts its focus.

Reaction-time switching costs. Research studying the impact of talking on cell phones while driving has identified tangible and measurable slowed reaction times to potential hazards.

Since then, I’ve become very aware of others driving while using cell phones. They’re the ones whose speed is constantly changing, and they sometimes swerve like they’re under the influence. I can pick out these drivers about 90 percent of the time.

Those are just the talkers. People texting and driving are even scarier! All of these drivers increase the possibility of causing a severe injury to themselves and others and I don’t want to be one of them.

If this research was not enough to convince me to change my habits, the new 16-year-old driver in my household is. Setting a good example by staying off my phone is important.

So what can we do besides put policies in place? Be aware of the risk to yourself and others when you’re distracted. Put your phone on silent when driving, use a hands-free device or, if possible, just pull over off the road. If you’re really passionate, you can contact your elected officials and push them to put laws in place to ban texting and talking while driving.

I’ll be the first to admit this behavior can be hard to change. But it’s safe to say this change is a “good call.”

April is distracted driving awareness month. Join me and commit to safer driving habits - today and every day.

Posted by Bob Ness on Tue, Apr 30 2013 9:45 amBob Ness is a corporate risk and insurance administrator for American Family Insurance.

‘Tough Decision’ on Teen Safe Driver Program Keeps Teen Safe, Sets Good Example for Friends

Teen Safe Driver programHaving a new teen driver in the family can be frightening. Statistically, one in six teens is involved in a car crash within the first year of driving.

When my son got his driver’s license, he was great about putting on his seatbelt. Unfortunately, his passengers weren’t always so responsible. After we began using the Teen Safe Driver program, we caught this kind of behavior, and as a family we talked about how it’s important it is for everyone in a vehicle to be properly restrained.

Sometimes teenagers don’t want to point out such shortcomings to their friends. But with a camera in the car, our son could now let his passengers know they’d be "caught" if they didn’t buckle up. After a discussion on this topic, we never observed un-belted passengers again.

The decision to participate in American Family Insurance'sTeen Safe Driver program was not easy. Our son protested at first. After all, none of his friends had this technology in their cars. If they had, it would have made things a little easier.

Clearly, though, some of his friends would have benefited greatly from the program. On multiple occasions, I’d observed their bad teen driving habits. Our son even commented that some of his friends have been in accidents and received tickets. He’s now 23 years old and is still accident free.

I challenge parents in similar circumstances to find others within their circle of friends to enroll in the Teen Safe Driver program together. That way, not all the pressure is on one parent or teen driver.

Teen Safe Driver logoIt was tough to be the only "bad" parents, but we understood the importance of learning good driving habits early, so we focused on this goal. We stayed tough and told our son that driving is a privilege and not a right. We are assuming the risk by signing for him and providing the insurance, so we have the ultimate say. Plus, he is our child, we are the parents and the parents need to be the ones in charge.

Parenting isn’t always easy. Tough love is part of our job description.

Editor’s note: Tina is an American Family Insurance employee and the mother of a teenage driver who together participated in American Family’s Teen Safe Driver program. As a result, she’s seen firsthand the benefits of this innovative technology that helps monitor and record teens’ driving patterns so they can learn to improve. 

Posted by Tina Schoewe on Tue, Apr 23 2013 7:57 amTina Schoewe is casualty claims adjuster for American Family Insurance.

Confessions of a safe teen driver

Signing the Teen Safe Driver Pledge carThree years ago, I was approaching my 16th birthday. I was looking forward to the freedom I was about to experience. I was finally going to be able to drive myself wherever I pleased, and I was going to do it unsupervised. Kind of.

When my birthday rolled around, I had my keys in hand and the open road in my sight. I was ready to go. But with my new car came some interesting news. Mom and Dad were ready to go, too, but with a set of rules and a contract to sign detailing the specifics of when I was allowed to have the car, how many people I could have with me, and just how grounded I would be if I broke any of their many rules.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough. They brought backup in the form of the American Family Insurance Teen Safe Driver Program.

I thought I was a relatively good driver. By that, I mean I didn’t expect to see a motion-sensor camera in my car any time soon. And that’s what most teenagers think. Research shows we are all susceptible to being more confident than we are skilled, and Teen Safe Driver was a way to fix that.

I was less thrilled than Mom and Dad seemed to be. Who wouldn’t be frustrated at the thought of having their driving monitored? The driving that I imagined being so free began to feel constrained.

I was lucky to have a car of my own in the first place, so no amount of complaining was going to prevent the installation of the device. What came as a surprise, though, was that after a few days on the road with Teen Safe Driver, the uneasy feeling slipped away. With the help of my parents, I began to see – if not a little reluctantly – that there was good in it for me; it wasn’t just for their peace of mind. It very well might have saved me money in tickets or repairs.

Along the same lines, I watched videos from other drivers who have gone through the program and I realize now it might have saved my life. Of course, my parents said that from the beginning.

What I gained from Teen Safe Driver was the valuable experience of watching my own driving with coaching from an adviser who had plenty of experience helping other teens drive better. 

We often excuse our own actions, but when you’re staring at yourself making mistakes on the road, there is no denying it. Although my driving isn’t perfect, I make better decisions while driving, like not texting or running through stop signs: Things we all see other drivers do. 

Teen Safe Driver is a powerful program, and as a graduate I think it’s great that American Family makes it easy for customers to be a part of it. Even signing the Safe Driver Pledge makes people think about their driving and provides inspiration to make changes.

With my sister just reaching driving age, I am excited to see her go through the program and see how much it helps her driving habits. If you have a teen driver at home, go check out the program!

Speaking from experience, it’s worth it.

Editor's note: During Teen Driver Safety Week, talk with your family about distracted driving and what it takes to be a better driver. If you need some motivation, get everyone to take the American Family Insurance Safe Driver Pledge. And just for taking the pledge, we’ll enter you in a drawing for one of 10 $250 gift cards.

Posted by Brent Bacus on Fri, Oct 19 2012 12:19 pmBrent Bacus is studying microbiology at Michigan State University. He was a research intern for American Family Insurance in summer 2012.

Safe driving lessons from the side of the road

Running shoesAs we mark National Teen Driver Safety Week, I’m reminded that driver education, while especially important to new drivers, is important to everyone who gets behind the wheel.

Ironically, some of my best lessons on driving have come while running.

From a pedestrian-level view of my town’s roadsides and sidewalks, I’ve received many a crash course on how not to operate a motor vehicle.

In one case, it was literally a crash course – or at least the aftermath of one – where a driver had smashed into the traffic light at the entrance to my neighborhood and then left the scene before the police arrived.

Another time, I witnessed a woman driving a minivan almost hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk. I’m fairly certain the dog on her lap didn’t help her concentration.

And then there are the cell phone users – drivers of all ages – who seem more interested in what the person on the other end of the call has to say (or text) than how the driver in front of them is turning or stopping.

Perhaps worst of all, I’ve seen my fair share of empty beer cans and bottles along the highway – especially on stretches of road outside town. I hope I’m never running alongside someone who thinks they can operate a vehicle safely after downing a 12-pack of their favorite brew.

What’s become abundantly clear as I huff and puff along miles of roadway is that good driving is about so much more than just obeying road signs and the speed limit.

Good driving is about taking responsibility when you make a mistake.

It’s about patience – even if you have to wait to talk to a friend.

It’s about leaving the driver’s seat to the driver.

It’s about never – ever – starting a car when you’re not 100 percent in control.

In a nutshell, good driving is about exercising common sense every time you get behind the wheel.

That’s a lesson we can all run with.

Editor's note: During Teen Driver Safety Week, talk with your family about distracted driving and what it takes to be a better driver. If you need some motivation, get everyone to take the American Family Insurance Safe Driver Pledge. And just for taking the pledge, we’ll enter you in a drawing for one of 10 $250 gift cards.

Posted by Paul Bauman on Tue, Oct 16 2012 12:58 pmPaul Bauman is a web experience administrator for American Family Insurance. When not developing content for the company’s websites, he enjoys sharing the running trail with his thoughts, which move at a much faster pace.