Origins and purpose of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Founded in 1959, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was at first a conduit for insurers to support academic and other organizations in the field of highway safety. In 1968 the Institute's Board of Governors decided after extensive review to change the organization. Today it is a scientific research and communication group dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries, and property damage — from crashes on the nation's roads.
Institute members are property-casualty insurers nationwide and several insurance organizations. This document summarizes the Institute's purpose and objectives, citing historical documents from the period during which the Institute was restructured.
Board meeting on September 12, 1968: Board discusses the structure of "a research program that would serve the needs of the insurance industry as well as that of the general public." After an extensive briefing and discussion, Dr. William Haddon, Jr., M.D., then director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Bureau, recommends that the industry "start with loss reduction research and figure out the areas in which the payoffs would be greatest." He points out that roadway environment is much broader than the road itself and urges the Board to take a greater interest in the vehicle and to give consideration to particular items within vehicles that are factors in causing losses. Board Chairman Schaffer comments that "companies are favorably inclined toward producing data for highway safety research purposes, provided it can be done for a reasonable cost." He concludes by saying this area is thirsting for leadership. Board member Jones comments that such a program will need guidance.
Dr. Haddon says one of the first things to be done by the "second generation" of the Institute is to improve its data gathering facilities as well as the data. He comments that public highway crash records are "not worth much" and says vehicle make, type, and model data are needed. These data should be part of the insurance industry's database. Dr. Haddon suggests that the industry start finding out what it can get.
Board meeting on December 11, 1968: During a discussion of the Institute's future direction, Board Chairman Schaffer suggests that the Institute "start at once to collect auto accident repair cost data prospectively," adding that "our voice will become much stronger if we have reliable data to back us up." Such data, the Board concludes, would "strengthen the position of the insurance business in influencing and talking with automobile manufacturers concerning automobile design and performance decisions."
The purpose of the Institute's traffic safety research conference, scheduled for January 1969, is to convince "as many top insurance company executives" as possible that "the insurance business does have a role to play in traffic safety research, and the Institute is the appropriate organization to administer such a research program."
Board meeting on March 20, 1969: Dr. Haddon is elected president of the Institute, and Mr. Ben Kelley, with the approval of the executive committee, is appointed vice president for communications. In line with the Institute's new direction, Dr. Haddon asks Board members to "supply him with research suggestions, especially those related to loss prevention, for the public as well as the insurance business." He discusses the need for an "early warning system" using insurance data "to reveal the impact on losses, both favorable and unfavorable, of changes in vehicle design."
Board member Malone notes that "this is the road we are presently going down" under the Institute's new direction and management.
Board meeting on May 13, 1969: In discussing the Institute's evolving structure and programs, Board Chairman Schaffer says he would prefer to see the Institute "over-appear than under-appear" in public hearings and other such forums. Much attention is centered on developing the Institute's research program rationale. Published on June 11, 1969, the rationale begins this way: "One principal goal has been kept in mind: loss reduction .... This emphasis stresses the substantial identity of the public interest and that of the industry." The program is to be "developed in conformity with the communications goals and resources of the Institute, and research results will be disseminated as part of the Institute's targeted communication of scientific and conceptual information."
The research program will favor work of high potential payoff; projects that offer the possibility of involvement of non-research Institute and industry staff; mission-oriented applied research as opposed to basic research, at least at first; fact finding to determine subsequent research and program emphases; projects that involve company and association staff and that stimulate fact-oriented safety thinking in the industry; research that, other things being equal, brings the resources of others to bear in support of work on the Institute's priority list, without involving conflict of interest; and investigations that relate losses of various types.
Published interview in September 1969: In a lengthy interview in the Journal of American Insurance, Dr. Haddon is asked to describe plans for the Institute and, specifically, the role of research in these plans. He points out that the Institute's activities, along with those "elsewhere within the insurance industry are, both at present and, particularly, potentially in the future, of far greater importance than what is going on in government."
Haddon discusses the insurance industry's "great potential in serving as the aggressive force to get problems solved." First, Haddon says, "we need to have research or, as I prefer to put it, practical fact finding .... The second thing that we need to do is to get both the facts of the present, the ones that we already know, and the new facts that come to our attention, disseminated to people in a position to use them, to profit from them, and to put them to work as a basis of their own activities with respect to highway safety. The third thing that we need to do, and all of these are either under way to some extent or are now beginning to get under way, is to help with innovations in the field .... It's regrettable that much of the scientific information of the past few years has just never reached many people."
Programs Committee meeting on July 2, 1969: The committee approves the Institute's basic communications goals as "gathering and disseminating information that will change public attitudes and responses toward social, public policy, technological and behavioral issues in ways that will reduce highway losses or support steps leading to reductions." Need is stressed for "complete coordination with other Institute programs and activities, within the areas of research and operations, as well as coordination where appropriate with private and public communications beyond the Institute such as within the auto casualty insurance industry." A stress on "reliable, fact-based information" is noted. These points are subsequently approved by the Board of Directors.
Board meeting on December 10, 1969: In a report on the first Institute research effort toward fulfilling the goal of acquiring auto damage-related data, Dr. Haddon and staff briefly report on the progress of the Institute's low-speed crash test program to determine the vulnerability of new cars to damage necessitating repair or replacement. Board Chairman Schaffer "congratulates all members of the Institute staff who had anything to do with this testing program."
Symposium in June 1970: At "Key Issues in Highway Loss Reduction," an Institute research and communications symposium, senior insurance executives Dean W. Jeffers of Nationwide and H. Clay Johnson of Royal Globe give presentations.
Jeffers: "As insurance executives we must be concerned about the progress ... the soundness ... and the stability of our companies. As human beings we have an equally urgent obligation to search for, and to correct, the cause of America's destructive highway record. We must identify those causes whether they arise with the vehicle or with its victims, with the manufacturers or with motorists .... We are in the business of preventing loss just as much as we are in the business of compensating people for losses. Given those two options, there is little doubt as to which is the more desirable .... I support the principle expounded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that a well-rounded program includes numerous complementary measures designed to prevent loss before an accident happens, while it is happening, and immediately after the fact. This, as I understand it, is the direction the Institute is taking, and we must rely on Institute staff for research data and recommended approaches in each of these areas .... Needless to say, an effective safety program cannot be bought in instant packages; it will not be accomplished in this conference or in the next week or in the next year. Safety is always a long-range project, but I must conclude that it holds out more hope for a viable solution to the financial problems of auto insurance, and the human problems of life and death on our highways, than any changes we can make in the system or in the rates."
Johnson: "Under the leadership of Dr. Haddon and his very competent professional staff, the Institute has developed a keen cutting edge and has become what we always wished it to be, the highway safety spokesman for the insurance business. Its cooperation is, we believe, welcomed by the Department of Transportation and by congressional committees and for the first time in its history it is supplying input to the automobile manufacturers. So it has come from an organization that played a self-effacing support role to one that is making original contributions derived from its special knowledge and its own efforts. The potential for further contributions of this kind are great and are limited only by our resolve and our resources .... It seems quite essential that we continue to give the Institute our maximum support. It was with this thought in mind that our program was intended to inform policy-making executives. I think we have all received the message."
Board meeting on December 17, 1970: After discussing current Institute activities, Chairman Morrill concludes that the Institute "is in the process of reorganization, that it is being transformed from a grant-giving organization to one that is doing its own thing." He declares that he is proud of what the Institute is doing. The Board must recognize, he adds, that when it cuts down on grants its members must face some heat.
Following a lengthy discussion of the need for and approaches to gathering data "relating to the characteristics of automobiles and related variables as they affect the losses incurred in motor vehicle accidents," special funds are appropriated for the exclusive financing during 1971 of the Institute's new data-gathering program (this program was the genesis of the Highway Loss Data Institute). Board Member Mostero, commenting on the motion, says "the end product will benefit the entire automobile insurance industry" and predicts that "the day may soon come when more financing will be needed." He adds that "every company should be told what the Institute is doing."
Address on February 22, 1971: In addressing auto company executives at the Economic Club of Detroit, former Board Chairman Morrill describes in detail the Institute's approaches, including Dr. Haddon's design of the "first comprehensive conceptual framework for an effective battle plan to counter vehicle accident losses." Morrill adds, "Some may see the Institute's low-velocity crash tests and the emergence of a make and model damageability and repairability index as a confrontation between insurers and manufacturers. This would be unfortunate. There is enough friction in the system now without adding to it. In the old phrase, we need light, not heat .... The type of data insurers are seeking to provide should illuminate with facts many aspects now shrouded with opinion. The motivation is reduction in the insurance costs of your customers and ours through the mitigation of crashes and their consequences. Incentive is an imperative of the private enterprise system. The process should be seen as a stimulus to excellence of design, not as a threat. The total harmony of insurer and consumer interest in crash loss reduction justifies the effort."
Address on May 18, 1971: In addressing the annual meeting of the American Insurance Association, Dr. Haddon describes the three phases (pre-event, event, and post-event) that apply across all loss areas and notes that "the business of the insurance industry is predominantly that of easing the private and public burdens in situations in which people and their property are damaged by interaction with the full range of natural and man-made environmental hazards .... This easing of burdens, fundamentally considered, has historically in most areas of the industry included not only spreading the cost of the damage but, often more important, reducing the actual damage by a variety of pre-event, event, and post-event loss-reduction measures."
Haddon further notes that the insurance industry has a "long, effective, and proud history of public service in relation to environmental issues." He spells out future opportunities for the industry to develop along systematic lines new insights into factors that produce losses that unacceptably burden both insurers and society as whole; to push the results of such fact finding into the private and public processes by which decisions to reduce environmental hazards get made (design and production decisions by private policy-makers and legislative and administrative rulemaking decisions in the second); and to protect existing loss-reducing policies, particularly in the public sector, from lobbying and other undermining inroads attempted by interests who see themselves threatened as a result, and vigorously promoting new ones where needed.
Journal article in February 1972: Board Chairman Mackay writes for the Journal of Insurance that "noteworthy reduction of highway losses is already nearing realization as a result of Institute research in the field of safety-oriented vehicle design, detection of unfit drivers, improvement of the driving environment, and upgrading of post-crash medical care .... Certainly our tasks have just begun, for until recently the recognition of the insurance industry's fundamental concern with environmental problem-solving has either been neglected or taken for granted by the public and government, and unquestionably it has been under-emphasized by the industry."
Journal article in March 1972: John Washburn, president of The Home Insurance Company, comments in the Journal of Insurance that the Institute "is now at the forefront of the drive to educate the public" about "the fragility of today's cars, how expensive they are to repair, and how they can be made safer." The article also describes in detail the cooperation of the Institute and Home Insurance in the areas of roadside hazards identification, public education, and research.
Winter 1972: Institute president Haddon comments for Dialogue, a magazine published by the Insurance Company of North America, concerning the restructured Institute's activities and purposes. Dr. Haddon concludes with this comment about the Institute's work: "We must play the odds and get our gains where we can. This is typical of all therapeutic and preventive measures. Penicillin kills several people a year or so in the U.S.; smallpox vaccine does the same. There are always trade-offs; we have to do the best we can on balance to maximize the benefits of loss reduction programs and minimize the harm .... We can substantially reduce the losses of lives and property on our highways. However, in order to do so we must logically and systematically analyze our problems, produce evidence which substantiates that analysis — this is what the Institute is trying to do — and then help others to take appropriate action."
First summary of Institute work, spring 1972: The Institute publishes To Prevent Harm, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review describes it this way: "There must be a continued effort to reduce the frequency of crashes. But there must be new emphasis on improving the protection which vehicles provide their occupants and on making vehicles themselves less subject to damage and less expensive to repair." Then Technology Review cites the Institute's own mission statement that its "scientific and educational work acts increasingly as a unique catalyst for highway loss reduction actions by government, industry, and the public."
June 1981: The Institute publishes a summary of recent research and communication programs. The Year's Work, 1980-81 concludes with the following summary of purpose: "The ultimate mission of the Institute is to develop and make public the scientifically reliable (and often otherwise unavailable) kinds of information that help public and private policy makers choose appropriately among the many approaches, some of them effective and others not, for reducing highway deaths, injuries and economic losses. Across a range and richness of issues — child protection, driver education, road and roadside design, traffic control approaches, vehicle crash-packaging, drunk driving, and others — the Institute thus provides a resource of great value: the resource of honest, competently obtained fact."