Tea leaves, crystal balls, goat entrails: humankind has a huge arsenal of crazy tools for seeing into the future. But a new study from the data-crunchers at LexisNexis says that there's a much more accurate way to learn someone's fate: just relax and look deep into his driving record.
The nuts and bolts
The Motor Vehicle Record Mortality Study was conducted jointly by LexisNexis and RGA Reinsurance Company. Together, they pulled over 7.4 million motor vehicle records at random, sorting them into three piles: individuals with clean records, drivers with minor violations, and those with major violations. For the purposes of the study, major violations included "alcohol- or substance-related infractions, excessive speeding, and reckless or negligent driving".
The two companies then took all that delicious, segmented data and cross-referenced it with the Social Security Death Master File. (Yes, there is such a thing.) They found that of the 7.4 million drivers included in the study, roughly 73,000 had died.
Then it was just a matter of building a few handy Venn diagrams to determine if there was any correlation between driving history and death. And sure enough, those with major violations on their records were most likely to have died.
And then things got weird
But in the course of all that cross-checking, researchers noticed something strange: the people who had died hadn't necessarily died in vehicles. There seemed to be a linkage between major driving violations and folks' propensity to die, period.
In other words, just as some employers look at applicants' credit ratings to see if they'd be trustworthy workers, LexisNexis and RGA found that driving records are a strong predictor of longevity.
For you PowerPoint types, here are a few of the study's major bulletpoints:
Drivers with major infractions have mortality rates 70% higher than those without such infractions.
Drivers with six or more major infractions have a mortality rate that's 80% higher.
Women were less likely than men to have major infractions on their driving records, but those who did were at far greater risk of dying than their male counterparts. Such women have a mortality rate that is 100% higher than other drivers, but for men, the figure sat at 61%.
Even folks with minor violations face earlier deaths. The study found that drivers with between two and five infractions -- major or minor -- had a mortality rate 24% higher than their safer peers. For six or more infractions, the mortality difference jumped to 79%.
Having just one major violation on a driving record was linked to a mortality rate 51% higher than drivers without any infractions.
The moral of the story
Number-crunchers and risk-management types like those at LexisNexis and RGA aren't usually in the habit of building hypotheses to explain such statistics. They simply see the correlation and use it to set insurance rates.
But it doesn't take much of a rocket scientist to understand that drivers with several major driving infractions may be more likely to make "iffy" lifestyle choices, like being heavy smokers or drinkers. Over time, those choices can lead to a greater chance of death.
Bottom line: auto insurance companies already look at motor vehicle records to set policy rates. As studies like this create more linkages between driving records and longevity, though, don't be surprised to find other agencies -- even employers -- peeking at your motor vehicle records.
If you have a less-than-stellar driving record, there are a couple of remedies to consider. They might not improve your lifeline, but they could keep your premiums low:
If you've racked up points on your license, some states may remove them if you enroll in driver-improvement programs.
In some states, you can also shave off points by adopting safe driving habits and remaining infraction-free over a set period of time.
Remember, though: even if you manage to work off your points, infractions will likely be visible on your record for the forseeable future. If that's the case, you may have to go to court to have certain items expunged.