What happens when you call a How's My Driving number?
An operator will answer your call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and take down the details of the incident. The report goes to a supervisor for verification and is then e-mailed or faxed to the driver's manager.
What happens next depends on company policy and the driver's history.
Your call, by itself, is not going to get a driver fired. His own car insurance rates won't rise, and the company's commercial premiums probably won't, either. Reports are followed up with a counseling session and additional driver training.
There is a limit, of course; many companies will terminate the driver after three calls.
Joan Hunter Mayer was headed north on U.S. 101 in Ventura, Calif., when she spotted a delivery truck driving erratically. On its tail was a "How's My Driving?" decal.
Joan dialed the number and reported the driver. She never found out what happened afterward.
"I felt better after venting," she says, "and who knows, maybe the driver learned a lesson and drove more carefully in the future."
The numbers prove her right. Study after study finds dramatic reductions in accidents for fleets using How's My Driving services. So go ahead, call.
Just pull over first.
Why insurance companies pay the bills
When properly implemented, How's My Driving (HMD) programs work well--really well, the data show.
Car insurance companies have commissioned a number of studies, and every single one found HMD programs reduced the number of accidents and lowered loss ratios. Fireman's Fund studied 200 fleets over several years and found a 22 percent reduction in accidents. Great West Casualty examined 78 trucking companies and recorded a 53 percent decline in accident frequency.
Insurance companies are so confident that these programs work that they often pay the fees, about $15 per vehicle annually.
In most HMD programs, insurers never see the reports, so the calls have no effect on premiums. However, when insurance companies pay the bills, they have access to the reports, but even then they rarely result in rate increases.
Instead, HMD reports are used to identify, retrain and if necessary weed out problem drivers before a serious incident occurs.
Weeding out the bad apples
There are millions of vehicles out on the roads displaying some kind of HMD sticker.
"We monitor about 250,000 decals and only 10 percent are big rigs," says Paul Farrell, CEO of SafetyFirst Systems. For example, AT&T had over 77,000 vehicles on the road in 2009, mostly pickups and vans.
Most SafetyFirst clients receive two to three calls per month. The most common complaints are:
- Failure to signal
- Excessive speed
- Improper lane change
According to Farrell, "Roughly 80 percent of the drivers in a fleet never get a complaint. Half of the remaining 20 percent get one complaint call and never get another, while the final 10 percent make up the majority of the complaints."
Of course, a company can easily slap a decal on the back of its trucks.
Donna Shaft, a professional services marketing specialist in Chicago, was tailgated by a tow truck driver. During a small break in traffic he gunned past her, swerved in front of her, and gave her the finger for good measure.
When she called the number on the back of the truck, she reached a company employee who defended the driver and doubted her account of the incident.
How's my driving for everyone
There have been a number of attempts to transfer the success of commercial HMD programs to the masses, but none has managed to stick. Technology may change that.
In 2006, Lior Strahilevitz, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, published a paper titled "'How's My Driving?' for Everyone (And Everything?)." In it he proposed a federally mandated HMD program for all drivers. Every registered vehicle would be required to have a HMD decal, and every driver on the road would be encouraged to call in and report on fellow motorists.
Strahilevitz envisioned cars equipped with a button on the dash that connects to a national HMD center. If a driver witnessed reckless driving, he would call in a report and points would be deducted from the offending driver's account.
If this all seems a bit Big Brother, it is. Strahilevitz points out that driving is one of the most public acts we do and that HMD for everyone would save lives and lower both policing and insurance claims costs over the long haul.
Strahilevitz is currently working with economist David Abrams to determine if HMD programs can prevent and predict accidents in commercial fleets. Preliminary data will be available soon, and Strahilevitz is hopeful that insurance companies will pay attention to the results.
Every driver a police officer
If you own an iPhone, you can start reporting drivers today. "Drive Me Crazy" is an app that puts some of Strahilevitz's ideas into practice.
Philip Inghelbrecht, one of the co-founders of the Shazam music service, created an app that lets you "flag" drivers who behave badly on the road. If the offending driver has the app installed, he will be sent a virtual "ticket." Over the last 10 months a total of 21,000 bad drivers have been flagged. While these tickets have no real repercussions, they make reckless drivers aware that others are watching.
"My goals are to provide driver feedback and create social pressure for those who don't behave on the road," Inghelbrecht says. "A similar example is drunk driving. Thirty years ago it was the norm to "have one for the road;" today it is deeply frowned upon to drink and drive."
Eventually Inghelbrecht hopes to sell the data to insurance companies who could use it as part of their rating process. Currently two insurers are analyzing his data.
According to Inghelbrecht, "The insurance companies aren't looking to use our data in order to adjust premiums. It helps them better assess risk across many (anonymous) users, by vehicle types, within various geographical areas."
So while insurers are not yet using the data for rating purposes, it is certainly a possibility in the future.