As It Happens

Burger and fries with your safe driving? App rewards motorists who stay off their phones

A new app is using a rewards system to help drivers stay off their phones when they're behind the wheel. This App Saves Lives co-creator Ryan Frankel about says he thinks preventing distracted driving requires an incentive-based solution.

This App Saves Lives doles out deals to drivers who keep their eyes on the road and off their phones

A driver texts while at the wheel in this photo illustration in Montreal on January 25, 2017. Manitoba drivers who use a hand-held cell phone behind the wheel will face stiffer penalties as of Nov. 1.The fines will jump to $672 from $203, and the number of demerit points will increase to five points from two. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
This App Saves Lives is a new smartphone app that rewards users for not looking at their phones while driving. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)


Ryan Frankel knows the dangers of distracted driving first thand.

In 2015, the Philadelphia entrepreneur was in a near-death collision — and it prompted him to develop a new smartphone app called This App Saves Lives.

"A driver who was texting ran a red light and nearly killed me," Frankel told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Frankel said he was cycling at the time and swerved to avoid a direct collision with the vehicle, but he suffered severe injuries. He decided to create the app to try to make the roads safer.

"That concept of putting an end to distracted driving has long been on my radar," Frankel said. 

In Canada, 21 per cent of fatalities and 27 per cent of serious injuries involved some form of distracted driving, according to 2016 data from Transport Canada.

In the U.S., distracted driving killed 2,841 people in 2018 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nate Wagner, left, and Ryan Frankel, right, are the creators of This App Saves Live. (Submitted by Ryan Frankel)

Frankel created This App Saves Lives with his business partner, Nate Wagner. The app is designed around a points system that rewards users who keep their eyes on the road and not on their phone.

"We built a mobile solution that rewards drivers who choose not to engage in phone-based distracted driving," Frankel said.

Frankel has partnered with a variety of brands that will accept the rewards that drivers earn as points toward discounts on their products and services.

"The app automatically loads in the background anytime you get into a moving vehicle and you earn one reward point for each minute that you drive undistracted," Frankel said.

"You can take those rewards to our brand partners, and these are the companies that provide rewards and incentives and redeem your points for discounts and gift cards and great products and services."

Drivers can cash in their points for things like food, clothing and electronics.

This App Saves Lives has only been on the market for eight weeks. Frankel says more than 15,000 people have downloaded it so far.

"The feedback thus far has been overwhelmingly positive," Frankel said. "When you talk to individuals about the dangers of distracted driving, you're met with a resounding nodding of the head."

Despite a growing awareness of the risk, Frankel says the reward system and added incentives are key to actually breaking people's bad habits.

"The biggest successes and the most positive changes come from rewarding positive behaviour as opposed to punishing the wrong behaviour," Frankel said. 

"Rather than block your ability to send or receive a text, or to check your email, or browse the web, we've kind of taken the opposite effect with that, and that is to provide rewards for making the right choices."

Frankel adds that tailoring the app to new and younger drivers before they develop the habit is a priority.

"Our target focus out of the gate has been getting involved and getting in front of a younger demographic, stopping the problem before it becomes too ingrained in their psyche," he said. 

It's still too early to know how effective the app has been, but Frankel says he is encouraged by the feedback and looks forward to tracking whether it translates into safer roadways. 

"As we continue to grow, and our users continue to track their mileage, we'll be able to show data either to all of our audience of consumers, as well as a lot of the employers that we're working with — that there is a reduced incidence of accidents, injuries, and then, hopefully, deaths," Frankel said.

Written by John McGill. Interview with Ryan Frankel produced by Tayo Bero.