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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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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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