Have you ever looked at your phone while driving? For an overwhelming majority of people, the answer is yes.
That kind of distracted driving contributed to 3,400 deaths on the road and nearly 400,000 injuries, according to a 2015 report by the Nationl Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Whether it is talking or texting on the phone, scrolling through the news or adjusting a map navigator, few people can avoid the dangerous but tempting proposition while hurtling down the open road.
But what if there was an app that rewarded drivers for staying off their mobile devices?
That’s the concept behind Mojo, a smartphone application developed by TrueMotion, a Boston-based startup. The app awards drivers virtual points, which can turn into actual gifts for “distraction-free” driving.
Rafi Finegold, vice president of product at TrueMotion, thinks the app provides a fun incentive for drivers to put the phone down. He acknowledges that it's no easy task.
“Distracted driving has that unfortunate psychological loop,” he said. “You do it a few times and get away with it, so it provides a kind of re-enforcement, ‘I did it that time and here I am, I’ll do it again.’”
Using technology to curb distracted driving isn’t new, and even some insurance companies have separate devices to track a driver’s habits. Some apps on the market even can block text messages or calls, but Finegold said those punish a driver while not getting to the root of the impulse to check a phone.
Mojo keeps a “laser focus on distracted driving” and nothing else, he said. It doesn’t block other applications and it won't track speeding or sudden braking.
Once downloaded for free, Mojo can run in the background, detecting movements and identifying patterns.
After the app automatically recognizes when the user is driving a vehicle, it collects data on how often that person interacts with the phone while driving. At the end of the trip, Mojo awards a score.
Each minute of distraction-free driving counts as 1 point. When a driver collects 300 points, he or she can spin a virtual “prize wheel” for a chance to win. For now, TrueMotion is offering $5 Amazon gift cards. The startup is hoping to partner with other companies for more potential prize options.
While a report issued in 2015 report found that 70 percent of drivers used their phones while behind the wheel, a recent survey by TrueMotion put that figure at more like an eye-popping 99 percent. When using Mojo, the company claims a 20 percent reduction in the number of people who grabbed for their phone while behind the wheel.
Clearly, that still leaves roughly 80 percent of people on the phone, even with the Mojo. The problem is not going away overnight, Finegold acknowledged. While he said "people tend to shut down in the face" of negative and fear-based conversations about distracted driving, TrueMotion employs the opposite method.
“Instead of docking you points, we’re trying to give you points for distraction-free driving.” That way creates “more of a positive energy around it, rather than a fear based or negative approach.”
Other distracted driving apps
In October, the City of Boston debuted an app to find the “safest driver,” which tracked when someone was distracted by their phone, along with factors like rapid acceleration, harsh braking and sharp turns.