The Top 3 Ways Mobile Telematics Helps Detect and Reduce Distracted Driving

The latest developments in distracted driving telematics enable insurers to analyze risky distracted driving behavior and motivate safer driving.

Distracted driving has become a growing societal challenge, displacing impaired driving as the number one cause of death. Now, advancements in mobile telematics make it possible to identify key distracted driving events. In fact, telematics data reveals that over 50% of driver trips contain at least one distracted driving event

There are three key categories of distracted driving events, each posing a different degree of risk. In this article, we will dive into all three – and explore the opportunities to improve behavior and introduce preventative engagement methods that help reduce distracted driving accidents.


How smartphones can be used to detect distracted driving at scale

Modern smartphones feature a wealth of built-in sensors enabling them to collect data for use in telematics analytics. As well as network connectivity, provided courtesy of radio receivers for virtually every mobile data protocol from GSM to 5G, they include:

  • Inertia measurement sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers
  • Audio-visual sensors such as cameras and microphones
  • Bluetooth receivers for connecting wirelessly to other devices in a car
  • GPS receivers for accurate location tracking

In addition to all these technical capabilities, a key advantage of the smartphone is its ubiquity. In other words, practically everyone has one. No wonder the phone has been described by some as ‘a versatile probing device deployed on a large scale, enabling massive time- or location-based measurement campaigns’.²


What is distracted driving?

Distraction comes in degrees. And when it comes to examples of distracted driving, the different degrees of distraction depend on the way in which the driver is interacting with the source of distraction, both cognitively and physically.

In the following diagram, these different degrees are categorized as low, medium, and high distraction risk events.

1: Low Distraction Risk

Drivers face a low risk of distraction when using a device such as a Bluetooth® headset (wireless or wired) to participate in a phone call. While headsets offer the advantage of enabling drivers to keep their eyes on the road, they are still at risk of cognitive distraction. In other words, even though their hands are on the wheel and their eyes are on the road, the driver’s mental focus is elsewhere. Approximately 10% of all driving trips see a low to medium level of risk.³

2: Medium Distraction Risk

The level of risk increases when, in addition to that cognitive distraction, drivers face physical distraction too. This can occur when a driver takes a call on speakerphone or on a smartphone mounted to a dashboard. That person is now distracted on both the cognitive and physical levels, due to the need for physical engagement with the phone. When occurring, events of this type last for approximately 4.5 minutes on average.⁴

3: High Distraction Risk

At this level, the driver is subject to all three types of distraction – cognitive, physical and visual. It will come as no surprise that the riskiest events take place when the driver is physically handling the phone and manipulating the keyboard (on-screen or physical) while driving. Effectively, it means the driver is looking at the phone screen instead of the road and other traffic – in addition to being physically engaged and mentally distracted. High-risk phone distractions of this kind occur at an alarming rate of approximately30% of the time, and for approximately one minute – more than enough time for a severe accident to occur.


The Solution: Preventative Distracted Driving Telematics

While the emergence of the smartphone is clearly a reason for the recent trends in distracted driving accidents, its presence in so many vehicles can also make it easier to collect rich, real-time telematics data. And once that data is collected, it can be put to work. There are numerous ways in which telematics data can be used to address the problem of driver distraction – and they can be divided into two broad categories.

Category 1: Incentives and rewards

By nature, people like to be rewarded for their efforts – and they tend to adjust behavior and respond accordingly. Moreover, recognizing safe-driving achievements through telematics can lead to continued engagement and eagerness to continue to drive safely. An example of this technique was introduced by British direct-to-consumer insurer Carrot Insurance, who reward customers for driving safely and give them information regarding their driving behavior to help them do so. Their model has resulted in over 30% of customers receiving a reward for their safe driving each week – and a corresponding 42% drop in accident frequency. This is one example that strongly proves incentives encourage drivers to pay more attention can prove particularly effective.

Category 2: Real-time coaching

Telematics and connected car data can detect real-time distracted driving behaviours including time, duration and even severity level of smartphone usage while driving. When a distracted driving event takes place, drivers can be notified safely in real-time, or post-trip, and encouraged to drive safely through personalized and tailored coaching methods. As a best practice, coaching tips are always best combined with reinforcing rewards, to drive true, cause-and-effect behavioral modification.


A technology solution to a technology problem

Today’s distracted driving statistics make unhappy reading. A full 50% of accidents are caused by distracted driving – and much of that is the result of smartphone use. It therefore seems appropriate that smartphones have a key role to play in the development of distracted driving solutions. Yet despite their power as a device for collecting and transmitting data, it is only the informed, strategic use of the resulting data that will bring the figures down.

The good news is that programs based on this data are already proving effective at preventing distracted driving accidents. The more work is put in, the better mobile telematics will become at reducing both the extent and the seriousness of distracted driving behavior, all around the world.



About IMS

IMS (Insurance & Mobility Solutions) is a vehicle and driving data business, delivering enterprise solutions to over 350 customers including mobility operators, insurers and governments. The IMS Vehicle Data Exchange enables the IMS DriveSync platform to ingest and process data from any source, from OEM embedded units to smartphones and aftermarket hardware. The company, with offices in the UK, Europe and North America, has analyzed more than fifteen billion miles, feeding its algorithms with over a trillion data points.

IMS Distracted Driving Detection

With IMS’ Distracted Driving capabilities, insurers can detect distracted behaviors, including time, duration and even severity level of smartphone usage while driving. The information is displayed to the driver, for distracted driving coaching and safety awareness purposes, with the goal of reducing driving behaviors that lead to significant accidents.

Find out more:



¹ IMS Distracted Driving Insights Report:

² Smartphone-Based Measurement Systems for Road Vehicle Traffic Monitoring and Usage-Based Insurance, written by Peter Händel, Senior Member, IEEE, Jens Ohlsson, Martin Ohlsson,Isaac Skog, Member, IEEE, and Elin Nygren:

³ IMS Distracted Driving Insights Report:

⁴ IMS Distracted Driving Insights Report:

⁵ IMS Distracted Driving Insights Report: