October 2, 2008
Staff Reporter

Could playing computer games enhance mental agility enough to turn people over 50 into better drivers? Allstate Corp. wants to find out, and if the answer is yes, it might offer insurance discounts to people who play the games.

Under a new pilot program called InSight, Allstate will offer specialized computer games to 100,000 customers in Pennsylvania aged 50 to 75. The games’ developer, San Francisco-based Posit Science, will track the total number of hours these drivers play.

Then the group’s accident rates will be compared to a control group of people who do not play the games.

The games are not all specific to driving. They’re designed to reverse age-related cognitive decline and improve visual alertness.

For example, a game called “Jewel Diver” has players keep track of underwater jewels that pop up on the screen for a moment before they are hidden under fish swimming around. When the fish stop moving, players click on the fish hiding the jewel. It’s like Three Card Monte but without the cheating. Over time, the game gets more complicated as more fish appear on the screen.

Allstate recommends that drivers complete at least 10 hours of training. It’s being given as a free option to the 100,000 Pennsylvania drivers, and Allstate plans to decide next year whether to roll it out in other states.

Tom Warden, an assistant vice president at Allstate, said the company chose Posit’s technology because it is based on nine years of research into how older drivers’ brain fitness might be improved.

While people their 50s and 60s have the lowest accident rates of all drivers, at some point in the mid-60s this rate starts to climb again, Warden said. He hopes the brain fitness software can show “significant benefits here — beyond dollars and cents.”