Much has been said about the best ways to curtail distracted driving as a result of cell-phone use. Most agree that some combination of public awareness and legal enforcement is necessary to create a culture where people do not think it’s OK to text or call and drive.

But a reader of the Wall Street Journal from Colorado wrote in to the Journal with an interesting suggestion: what about enlisting the help of insurance companies?

“Car-insurance companies could simply add a clause to deny coverage to customers if an accident occurs while the driver is using a cellphone. The risk of a crash, including the liability of injury to others, would expose the driver to paying all damages out of pocket. I wager that this would put a fairly swift end to this practice for most people. “

It’s a compelling proposition, considering that right now the financial deterrent for texting and driving is relatively low compared to the fines for drinking and driving. However, the idea isn’t picking up much steam in the insurance industry.

In an email to the New York Times, State Farm’s Dick Luedke said that insurance companies usually pick up the check, even when the driver has been negligent by drinking and driving. “Generally speaking, we fulfill our promise even when the person to whom we make the promise violates the law, and we fulfill our promise to the person who texts while driving, whether or not that person is violating the law.”

While a lack of insurance coverage could be a deterrent to the driver, the flip side is that if an insurance company refuses to foot the bill for a distracted driver’s accident, that bill can include health care costs to the victim as well. If someone is texting and driving and smacks into another vehicle, seriously wounding a passenger, the texting drivers insurance wouldn’t cover those hospital bills.

What seems more practical is that insurance companies will adjust their rates to penalize distracted drivers. While this seems to be common sense, greater public awareness that distracted driving will directly cost the driver may help pressure drivers to put down the phone while behind the wheel.

Ultimately, relying on extra-legal means to set the bounds of behavior seems counterintuitive. If distracted driving is a mistake that we as a society believe should be punished by thousands of dollars of car repair and health care costs, shouldn’t the maximum fine for being caught texting behind the wheel represent that cost? Philosophically, it makes sense to spend energy treating the disease, which is texting and driving, rather than the symptoms, which are the wrecked vehicles and lives that result from distracted driving.

Photo Credit: Jason Weaver