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New Ohio Distracted Driving Law May Impact Insurance Rates

On April 4, 2023, it became illegal to use or hold a cell phone or other electronic device in your hand, lap or other part of your body while driving in Ohio. It’s a primary violation, meaning you can be pulled over if the police see you handling or holding the device.

Under the terms of the law, “use” includes dialing, texting or any activity that requires more than a swipe. Voice to text, speaking using a headset, earpiece or speakerphone, and talking via electronic watch are permitted, but making and receiving calls must be done hands-free and are restricted to drivers 18 years of age and older.

Ohio has joined about 31 other states and the District of Columbia in making it a primary offense to use handheld devices while driving.

The move to curb distracted driving is closely linked to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration statistics showing a growing number of deaths and injuries resulting from distracted driving: 3,522 fatalities in 2021 (the latest data available), more than 400,000 injuries, and nearly one million crashes.

Safe driving contributes to better insurance premiums

“The cost to repair damaged vehicles is significantly higher now than it was in the past,” says Catherine Young, personal lines region leader. “Newer vehicles not only have more modern technology that is more expensive to repair or replace, but we are also facing factors such as labor shortages. Even if an auto accident doesn’t result in any injuries, the damage to the auto alone can drive up premiums.”

Auto insurance rates are calculated using numerous factors, including age and condition of your vehicle and your driving history. People with excellent driving records typically pay substantially less for insurance than those with similar vehicles but a history of tickets or accidents. The difference can be hundreds of dollars per year!

Because of the price differential, some good drivers are eager to demonstrate their trustworthiness and receive discounts on car insurance. There are other drivers who have learned from prior accidents and violations how important safe driving is, and they have amended their behind-the-wheel behavior. For these drivers and all others who wish to be rewarded for good driving habits, new technology offers the chance to get personal auto insurance discounts.

For example, MissionSafe, Westfield’s safe-driving program, uses a phone-based app that helps drivers identify areas where they can improve their driving. The app also allows parents of new drivers to receive feedback on how their teen is doing on the road and to provide additional training where needed (and praise where merited). It can even help older drivers spot areas where they are developing bad habits or difficulties or — alternatively — give peace of mind to themselves and their families that their driving is still up to snuff. The program runs silently in the background and doesn’t need to be switched on and off, so it’s very convenient. Feedback on data collected for things like speed, phone usage, and hard braking is then provided on the app, where drivers can see their scores and their projected insurance discount.

Using MissionSafe does not increase your premiums if you are found to need improvement. Rather, it is designed with safety in mind to help you correct bad habits. In fact, using the app could help you reduce your auto insurance premium. There’s a 10% discount for signing up and following the terms of use, with up to 40% savings on your insurance coverage at renewal for the safest drivers. On top of that, customers have the opportunity to earn rewards every two weeks in the app that can be redeemed for gift cards or donations.

Data are kept private — never sold or shared — and you can opt out of the program if you decide it’s not for you.

“The recent uptick we’ve observed in usage-based insurance, or specifically our MissionSafe program, has been substantial,” says Catherine Young. “With everything seemingly increasing in price these days, it’s a relief to have an option that provides such an incredible opportunity to save money and have more control over your own premium, on top of improving your own driving habits.”

Safe driving starts with full attention to the road, so in Ohio — and in all jurisdictions — you are encouraged to avoid distracted driving and, where available, use MissionSafe to hone your skills and solidify good habits.

At Westfield Insurance, we are committed to helping our policyholders drive safely and save money on auto insurance. For more information on MissionSafe, car insurance, or any of your insurance needs, talk to a Westfield agent.