Photo by Seattle Department of Transportation

What does it take to change behavior behind the wheel?

Well, apparently an app that tracks your every move. Friendly competition and cash prizes don’t hurt either.

In November 2017, the Seattle Department of Transportation kicked off an 8-week Seattle’s Safest Driver competition, in partnership with PEMCO Insurance and Cambridge Mobile Telematics. The goal was to improve driver behavior and increase awareness of Seattle’s Vision Zero efforts to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets by 2030.

In Seattle, we see an average of 13,000 crashes per year that result in close to 20 people losing their lives and another 150 being seriously injured. These are our friends, family members, and neighbors, and we think one death is one too many, so we’re looking for the many ways we can work toward better behavior.

There’s an app for that

We set out to see how we could use technology for good. Turns out, the device that contributes to a growing trend around distracted driving might also play a key role in turning that behavior around.

Once you download and turn on your location, the app tracks driving, transit, ferry, and bike trips. Using GPS and fancy math, it can track speeding, phone distraction, harsh braking, acceleration, and cornering.

After completing a driving trip, you get a score based on those categories and see how you rank amongst others. Higher scores put you in the running for bi-weekly prizes and a grand prize of $2,000 cash.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

The key question from day one was, will people change their behavior for the better? The short answer: yes. After 8 weeks of competition, more than 4,000 app downloads, and nearly 300,000 car trips, we saw some great results.

Across the top 50% of users, we saw:

  • 20% reduction in phone distraction
  • 18% reduction in harsh braking
  • 16% reduction in speeding

And across the top 25% of users, we saw even greater improvement:

  • 35% reduction in phone distraction
  • 30% reduction in harsh braking
  • 28% reduction in speeding

Behavior change is the holy grail of road safety. We’re thrilled with these results. Reducing speeding and distraction are key ways we can work toward Vision Zero, as these are two of the top contributing factors to crashes on our streets.

And the winner is…

In late January 2018, we got to award Seattle resident Russell Lebert with a giant check and the title of Seattle’s Safest Driver. Russell grew up in the Seattle area and lives in Upper Queen Anne. He drives a few times a week to run errands and volunteer. He participated in the competition from day 1 and ended with a perfect score of 100. Here’s what he had to say about his experience:

“One of the most positive things about Safest Driver was the feedback it gives you – it really helped change my behavior. My top tip for people would be to go into driving with a positive attitude – remember that you’re behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle that is inherently risky. Second, put your phone down.”

Seattle’s Safest Driver was a great way engage with the community around safety, build awareness of our Vision Zero efforts, promote safer driving habits around the region, and most importantly, change behavior.

Learn more about Seattle’s Vision Zero work at www.seattle.gov/visionzero.