Smartphones May Lead to Costly Car Insurance

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COLUMBIA - More drivers are using their mobile phones for actions other than calling or texting, and a local insurance spokesman said that could be a contributing factor in rising insurance premiums.

"We know that a lot more crashes are occurring because of distracted driving," Jim Camoriano, of State Farm Insurance in Columbia, said. "That correlates to more accidents, which increases the cost." He said, "It's always been a problem since the first cell phone came out, it's just escalated from there."

A recent study by State Farm found a record number of drivers own smartphones. Distracted driving campaigns have typically been focused on teenage drivers, but smartphone usage in drivers over age 18 is up an average of 11 percent since last year, with 86 percent of drivers aged 18-39 owning smartphones.

In the past five years, the study said, the number of people who browse online sites or check social media while driving has nearly doubled. About one in four drivers admits to looking at his or her phone instead of at the road.

A J.D. Power study found car insurance premiums rose an average of $153 this year; 35 percent more than last year. 

The increase in number of crashes costs insurance companies more money. "That does put some upward pressure on rates," Camoriano said.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol changed its accident report forms last year, in order to report if cell phone use was the cause of an accident. In 2013, 13 people were killed due to cell phone use behind the wheel.

"Driver inattention is the number one contributing circumstance for all traffic crashes in the state of Missouri," Captain Tim Hull, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said.

Though prevalent, smartphone use isn't the only form of distracted driving. "It could be eating, it could be drinking, it could be talking to someone else in the car, smoking, whatever it might be," Hull said. "If it takes away from your attention from full time job of driving, it's a distraction, and it's considered driver inattention."

The State Farm survey found 76 percent of respondents think sending a text message while driving is "very distracting." However, Missouri is one of nine states without a complete ban on texting while driving. Texting is legal for drivers over age 21.

"You're no more safer if you're 22 than you are at 20, if you have a cell phone in the car," Camoriano said.

According to the government website dedicated to educate drivers about distracted driving, both sending and receiving text messages takes the driver's eyes off the road for about five seconds. That is the equivilant of driving the length of a football field at 55 mph with your eyes closed.

Distracted Driving Infographic