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Allstate: Can we improve Driver Safety using Posit Science InSight?

Insur­ance com­pa­ny All­state and brain fit­ness soft­ware devel­op­er Posit Sci­ence just announced (see press release Pro­tect­ing Penn­syl­va­nia Dri­vers, One Brain at a Time) a very intel­li­gent ini­tia­tive:

Video exer­cis­es aid dri­ving skills (Chica­go Tri­bune)

-“All­state, which called the Posit pro­gram “poten­tial­ly the next big break­through in auto­mo­bile safe­ty,” said it expects its soft­ware exer­cis­es to reduce risky dri­ving maneu­vers by up to 40 per­cent and improve stop­ping dis­tance by an aver­age of 22 feet when trav­el­ing at 55 miles per hour.”

-“We’ll look to see whether over the next six to nine months there will be a reduc­tion in” the num­ber of acci­dents between the group par­tic­i­pat­ing in the video exer­cis­es and those sit­ting out, said Tom War­den, assis­tant vice pres­i­dent of Allstate’s research and plan­ning cen­ter.

Tom Warden Allstate

I am for­tu­nate to inter­view Tom War­den, Assis­tant Vice Pres­i­dent and Leader of Allstate’s Research and Plan­ning Cen­ter, based in Men­lo Park, Cal­i­for­nia.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: Tom, thank you for your time. Can you please explain the con­text behind this new ini­tia­tive that you just announced?

Tom War­den: Our research cen­ter is con­stant­ly look­ing for new ideas to improve the dri­ving behav­ior of dri­vers of all ages. Recent­ly we have paid extra empha­sis on ways to improve the safe­ty of old­er dri­vers.

Let me pro­vide some back­ground here. All­state, as a com­pa­ny, has always been one of the pio­neers in help­ing to intro­duce new safe­ty mea­sures. For exam­ple, we were among the pio­neers in the 60s to advo­cate for manda­to­ry use of seat­ing belts, giv­en research stud­ies on the ben­e­fits for dri­vers and pas­sen­gers alike. More recent­ly, we helped lob­by for wider adop­tion of airbags, an effec­tive but expen­sive way of pro­tec­tion that only became main­stream when man­u­fac­tur­ers were required to include them.

Let’s talk now about your agree­ment with Posit Sci­ence. What will hap­pen over the next months?

The first thing we are doing is to con­duct a research study to ana­lyze the real-life impact of Posit Sci­ence InSight, a com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­gram, on acci­dent rates. We know that as dri­vers get old­er, espe­cial­ly in their 70s and beyond, a num­ber of cog­ni­tive prob­lems can get in the way of safe dri­ving. We want to see if there is a way to reduce this effect.

We are offer­ing the InSight pro­gram for free to over 100,000 auto pol­i­cy-hold­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia aged 50–75, and to some poten­tial clients. We rec­om­mend par­tic­i­pants to devote at least 10 hours to the train­ing exer­cis­es, but of course the more they can devote the bet­ter. We will com­pare the results with a con­trol group.

How will you mea­sure suc­cess, and by when will you know if your expec­ta­tions are met?

Giv­en that we have already start­ed recruit­ing par­tic­i­pants and train­ing may start as soon as next week, we may have some inter­est­ing results by the end of March 2009 or per­haps dur­ing the sum­mer. In order to have sta­tis­ti­cal­ly mean­ing­ful num­bers, we will have to see how many peo­ple enroll in the study and the size of the observed impact.
We will ana­lyze the pro­gram com­pli­ance rates since this type of inter­ven­tion needs to be engag­ing enough for peo­ple to devote a num­ber of hours to at home. But, at the end of the day, what we want to see is whether using the pro­gram will trans­late into low­er acci­dent rates and bet­ter safe­ty.

Assum­ing those goals are met, what would be the next steps?

In that case we will have to fig­ure out ways to roll out the pro­gram nation­wide, per­haps even offer­ing dis­counts to pol­i­cy-hold­ers who com­mit to using the program.  We would also engage in pub­lic advo­ca­cy, share the results, part­ner with the DMV and oth­er agen­cies.

But, we have not real­ly con­tem­plat­ed this yet, we need to see the results first.

The InSight pro­gram is a pret­ty spe­cial­ized pro­gram. It does not train all main cog­ni­tive skills involved in dri­ving, such as say work­ing mem­o­ry or divid­ed atten­tion, but focus­es most­ly on visu­al pro­cess­ing. Are you con­duct­ing some type of inde­pen­dent cog­ni­tive assess­ment to iden­ti­fy who may ben­e­fit from that pro­gram vs. oth­er options?

No, we are not. We became inter­est­ed in talk­ing to Posit Sci­ence after they acquired Visu­al Aware­ness, the com­pa­ny that had devel­oped the Use­ful Field of View (UFOV) tech­nol­o­gy. We felt Kar­lene Ball and her team brought the kind of research that stood up to our stan­dards and held the most promise to meet our needs.

What was the main busi­ness case to embark on a pio­neer­ing ini­tia­tive like this?

As I said ear­li­er, All­state has a long tra­di­tion of intro­duc­ing safe­ty-relat­ed mea­sures, and this ini­tia­tive reflects that com­mit­ment. In this case, our objec­tive goes even beyond dri­ver safe­ty: we want to help our clients. We want to con­tribute to their over­all qual­i­ty of life and pro­tec­tion. We believe that pro­grams like InSight can con­tribute to bet­ter dai­ly func­tion­ing and qual­i­ty of life. We want our clients to have pos­i­tive feel­ings towards All­state and to know we care about them.

A poten­tial con­cern we have heard in sim­i­lar cas­es, where an insur­ance com­pa­ny offered a com­put­er-based assess­ment or train­ing pro­gram, is Pri­va­cy. How can users of InSight who are also All­state pol­i­cy hold­ers know that what­ev­er infor­ma­tion the pro­gram gath­ers can­not be used against them, for exam­ple to deny cov­er­age or increase pre­mi­ums?

That’s a great ques­tion. We are aware of that poten­tial con­cern, and we are putting process­es in place so that All­state doesn’t get access to any cog­ni­tive infor­ma­tion on a par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual. The Posit Sci­ence pro­gram is gath­er­ing the infor­ma­tion, and Posit Sci­ence will only share data with us at an aggre­gat­ed lev­el, for over­all research pur­pos­es. All­state will be com­plete­ly blind as to who uses the pro­gram.

A cou­ple of final ques­tions on relat­ed inno­va­tion areas. One: giv­en that med­ica­tions can con­tribute to the cog­ni­tive impair­ments in old­er dri­vers that you are try­ing to address, are there ini­tia­tives under­way to bet­ter mea­sure and explain those to seniors -and their doc­tors? Sec­ond: All­state has been aggres­sive­ly pro­mot­ing a Par­ent-Teen Dri­ving Con­tract to con­tribute to the safe­ty of teenage dri­vers. Anoth­er cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­gram, called Dri­ve­Fit, is being used by hun­dreds of dri­ving schools in Cana­da and Europe. Are you con­sid­er­ing a sim­i­lar research study to reduce acci­dent rates among teenagers?

On the first ques­tion, that is indeed a major prob­lem. Med­ica­tion can impair cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing, and of course as we get old­er we usu­al­ly get more of them, which can con­tribute to dri­ving prob­lems. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I am not aware of any major ini­tia­tive to deal with that prob­lem from a com­pre­hen­sive per­spec­tive.

On the sec­ond one, it is clear that teenagers face spe­cif­ic chal­lenges when start­ing to dri­ve, before they get the need­ed expe­ri­ence and abil­i­ties to process infor­ma­tion and to man­age risks. We are always look­ing for ways to increase the safe­ty in our roads, so that type of project would cer­tain­ly fall with­in the scope of our inter­ests, but for now we chose to focus on help­ing old­er dri­vers dri­ve more safe­ly and improve their qual­i­ty of life. Giv­en demo­graph­ic real­i­ties, we real­ly need to explore options there as soon as we can.

Any final remarks for our read­ers to under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of your agree­ment?

We believe this pro­gram has the poten­tial to low­er acci­dent rates and improve the qual­i­ty of life of mil­lions of adults. We are excit­ed to be able to offer it to our pol­i­cy-hold­ers, to show our com­mit­ment to inno­va­tion and to their over­all pro­tec­tion and well-being. We are hope­ful that, if the results are as pos­i­tive as we believe they can be, inter­ven­tions like this can become a major new safe­ty ben­e­fit, and that it may pos­i­tive­ly reflect on AllState’s brand and pub­lic per­cep­tion.

Tom, thank you very much for your time. We will be very inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about the ongo­ing progress of this ini­tia­tive.

Thank you.

Note: the inter­view above has been edit­ed for clar­i­ty and read­abil­i­ty pur­pos­es. It is not a ver­ba­tim tran­script.

If you want to learn more about the top­ic, you will enjoy these relat­ed arti­cles:

- Improv­ing Dri­ving Skills and Brain Func­tion­ing- Inter­view with ACTIVE’s Jer­ri Edwards
- Dri­ve­Fit (by Cog­niFit); Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram for Dri­ving

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