Vehicle Accidents an Exception Amid Declining Number of Work Injuries

By Jim Sams, Claims Journal

While the frequency of workers’ compensation claims has continued a decades-long decline, the number of work injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents has continued a steady increase that began in 2011, according to a new report by the National Council on Compensation Insurance. NCCI researchers noted that since the release of the Apple iPhone in 2011, the share of smart phones increased from 6 percent of all cell phones to 84% at the end of 2018. There’s no proof that distracted driving is causing the uptick in motor vehicle accidents, but the connection is obvious, said NCCI Executive Director and Actuary Jim Davis.

“It jumps off the page at you,” Davis said during a telephone interview with the Claims Journal on Wednesday.The NCCI report, written by Davis and Associate Actuary Ryan Voll, updates a 2018 research brief that chronicled a general decrease in lost-time workers’ comp claims from 2000 to 2016 — with only one uptick in claim frequency in 2010. That report showed that lost-time claims caused by motor vehicle accidents followed the same declining trend up until 2011; then the numbers started to increase.That increase continued in 2017 and 2018, according to the updated research brief. Since 2011, the frequency of lost-time claims caused by motor vehicle accidents has climbed 4.9 percent above 2011 levels, while lost-time claims for all causes declined by 20.1 percent during that time, the brief says.The data is derived from Statistical Plan information for the 38 states and the District of Columbia, where NCCI provides rate-making services. Claims that resulted in seven or more days of time off work were included. Frequency was measured as the number of lost-time claims per $1 million in premium.The impact of the increased number of motor vehicle accidents on workers’ comp is amplified by the severity of those claims, Davis said. On average motor-vehicle related claims cost 80 percent more than workers’ comp claims from all causes, according to NCCI.

Motor vehicle accidents often cause severe injuries involving the head, spine and neck, said Jeff Eddinger, a senior division executive for NCCI. “There are a lot of dangerous jobs out there that are covered by workers’ compensation,” he said. “But according to the study the most dangerous thing that any worker can do is drive a motor vehicle.”

The updated research brief contained a hopeful note: The increasing number of vehicle accident-related claims is showing signs of leveling off. NCCI said the prevalence of smart phones appears to have reached a saturation point. The report notes that the share of smart phones among all cell phones climbed from 80 percent to 84 percent from 2016 to 2018 after climbing dramatically during the previous nine years. At the same time, great use of cell phone blocking technology is expected to make driving safer. The technology prohibits calls or texts when a vehicle is in motion. Also, Bluetooth technology allows drivers to communicate hands free while driving.What’s more, an increasing number of vehicles are equipped with driver-assistance features, such as automatic braking. Davis said both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have predicted that driver-assistance devices will reduce accident rates.But the impact of new safety devices won’t be felt immediately. The report notes that the average age of cars and light trucks on the road is 12 years. Only 6 percent of vehicles on the road are less than one year old. NCCI said “it will take time for the full spectrum of safety features to penetrate the vehicle pool.”

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