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Pandemic may have long-term effect on driving habits, says Allstate exec

➤ Allstate's telematics data has shown that driving has decreased by as much as 50% since mid-March, when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

➤ The company responded to that data with its "Shelter-In-Place Payback" program, which will return $600 million in premiums to its policyholders in April and May.

Glenn Shapiro, president of Allstate Corp.'s personal property-liability business, said the company's telematics data shows a dramatic change in driving habits since the novel coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in mid-March. Fewer drivers are on the road and driving distances have plummeted.

Shapiro, who also oversees Allstate subsidiaries Esurance Insurance Co., Encompass Home & Auto Insurance Co. and Answer Financial Inc., talked with S&P Global Market Intelligence about what has changed in the last few weeks and what impact that may have down the line. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

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Glenn Shapiro, president of personal property-liability at Allstate
Source: Allstate Corp.

S&P Global Market Intelligence: Driving habits nationwide obviously have changed because of the pandemic, but in what ways? What have been the biggest changes Allstate has observed?

Glenn Shapiro: We really saw the start of it in the middle of March [from the telematics data]. It kind of fell off a cliff from there and kept going down, and it's pretty pervasive. Fewer people are taking trips. The people who are taking trips are taking fewer of them and the trips themselves are shorter. So you kind of compound those three things and you get where there are a lot fewer miles being driven.

Now that they are driving less, have policyholders scaled back coverage, such as reducing limits for auto liability, personal injury and comprehensive?

If you go back to other points in history where there have been recessions and other economic challenges, those are the times when people reach out to their agents and talk to them about the coverages they need and sometimes make some adjustments. We're really only three weeks into the meat of this, so we don't have any data to suggest folks are doing that now.

READ MORE: Sign up for our weekly coronavirus newsletter here, and read our latest coverage on the crisis here.

What kind of behaviors, safe or unsafe, have you observed from those who are still driving?

We're seeing two countervailing trends. A positive one is that there's less hard braking happening. What that suggests is the roads are less congested, it's a little safer to be out there and there are fewer incidences where you are getting cut off or you're distracted and there's somebody right in front of you. On the other end, we're seeing more incidents of extreme high speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. Roads are more open, there's less traffic and people are driving faster. Not everyone, but we're seeing more of it.

What changes are you anticipating from drivers once shelter-in-place restrictions are eased? Any concerns about a big spike in claims frequency?

When we looked at the overall impact of COVID-19 on accidents, expenses and losses, there are a lot of different pieces moving in different directions. On one hand, people are driving less, so there are fewer accidents. On the other hand, you have the potential for increasing auto parts prices because of disruptions in the supply chain. Also, there is the question of once the "all-clear" signal is given, will you have everybody heading out on the road at the same time and you have a ... short period when everybody's making up for missed vacations and missed time seeing relatives and so on. It's definitely something we're watching.

Do you think this experience will have a long-lasting effect on the way people drive?

I think about the long-term impact on people who have now figured out how to work from home. Will they be doing it more often after this? We can't say for certain, but I've talked to friends and family who were not people who worked from home in their jobs because their companies did not embrace it. I have asked them if they will work a day or two at home each week after this is over or if they think they'll go back to five days a week in the office. Most have said they would work from home some days because their companies have gotten comfortable with it, as have they. So ... there's a chance you see a long-term effect like rush hour going down by a few percentage points in terms of the number of cars on the road. Not like it is today, but there could be that effect.