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ODOT’s new safe driving competition will use app that locks phone screen while driving

Posted by on August 1st, 2017 at 11:05 am

The app shows this screen when a car is in motion.

At this point the State of Oregon seems willing to try anything to change our dangerous culture of distracted driving.

To take a bite out of an alarming rise in traffic deaths last year — the 495 people who died was a 58 percent rise from 2013 — the Oregon Department of Transportation convened a task force and purchased unmarked patrol cars, published a report on the “epidemic”, and most recently the legislature acted to tighten a loophole in our existing distracted driving law.

Their latest effort will rely on friendly competition. Drive Healthy is the name of an initiative announced today that will pit individuals and organizations against each other to see who can be the safest driver. Similar to the Bike Commute Challenge, people will sign up online and have their results tracked via the Livesaver app and results will be posted on a public leaderboard. Once downloaded, the app runs in the background and automatically locks your phone when you drive (see screenshot at right). The fewer times you unlock the phone, the more points you get. The only functions available while driving are “Emergency Call” and “Passenger Unlock”.

Here’s more from ODOT and the website:

When you register the app, you’ll pick the organization you are a part of, then the app scores on whether you unlock or use their phone while your vehicle is in motion. Less unlocking means a higher score. We’ll post the scores which are reset each month. Not only will we be able to see who the safest drivers are, but how behavior has changed…


We gamify healthy driving by providing immediate feedback on safe driving behavior and creating competition to see which group can drive more safely—combining peer pressure with the present of an app silently watching behavior…

Immediate feedback does change behavior (think of the signs that tell you how fast you are going). Feedback on how safe you are driving will do the same thing

Cognitive Neuroscientist Ian Robertson says “success and failure shapes us more powerfully than genetics and drugs.” The desire to win can be an effective counter to the pleasure derived from using social media while driving. It’s called “gamification” and we feel this is a very powerful tool in the distracted driving arena.

Here’s the app screen that shows a participant’s results:

Oregon was inspired by a similar effort in Boston, where they say a safe driver competition resulted in a 47 percent decline in distracted driving.

Oregon’s competition is also open to fleet vehicles, so we could see a competition between FedEx and UPS drivers if they were to sign up.

You can register now at You’ll get a reminder to download and start using the app on September 1st. The Drive Healthy campaign is being supported (so far) by AAA Oregon/Idaho, ODOT, the Oregon State Police, Oregon Association of Broadcasters, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, and LifeSaver.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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  • bikeninja August 1, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Maybe we can get insurance companies to require the use of a phone locking app to get auto insurance coverage, with a rider that says said insurance is null and void ( and illegal) if the safety app is found to be disabled by a constable or in the event of an accident.

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    • Hazel August 1, 2017 at 2:42 pm

      That’s making the assumption that everyone has a smart phone..

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      • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 6:55 pm

        …and it assumes that you can’t physically drive without a license and/or insurance.

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    • mran1984 August 1, 2017 at 11:34 pm

      Maybe apply this to all of the folks on bicycles too. Especially those awful orange things. I see as many addicts on bikes as I do behind the wheel.

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  • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 11:50 am


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    • 9watts August 1, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Yeah, I nearly blew a fuse when I read that.

      I guess fatality free days didn’t work. Now this?

      Anything to not actually take the problem seriously. Has ODOT never heard of sticks?

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      • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 12:34 pm

        It’s not just ODOT; if anything, they are simply reflecting a society that has to make a game out of doing anything good for themselves. Wanna promote cycling? Then make a game of it, getting riders to go around the countryside for three weeks against each other or as teams, being cheered by crowds who drove there to watch. Wanna promote walking? Make a device for measuring paces (Fitbit), then watch grown adults compete within offices as to who walked more. Wanna get people off their butts and go outside? Then make a game (Pokemon Go) that has virtual imaginary characters positioned in real space using GPS. Now we have a game for promoting non-distracted driving, using intra-office peer-pressure as a driving force. I have no doubt the next presidential election will be gamified, just to get people to vote (or vote more often.) Apparently we have to gamify life, otherwise no one would live it.

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    • Adam
      Adam August 1, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      At this point, I honestly can’t tell if ODOT is trolling us or they actually are so incompetent that they think a “gamification” app that gives out imaginary points will fix the problem.

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      • 9watts August 1, 2017 at 12:36 pm

        This may be the second dimension of this proposal where they are tipping their hand.

        I’ve gotten a fair bit of flak here in the past for pointing out ODOT’s penchant for sing-song chants and paternalistic jabs at those not in cars. The gamification idea is I think just an extension of that strategy, which has always struck me as supremely ill-considered. Their use of puns and word play in most of their outreach material, the sing-song rhymes, etc. all suggest at least to me a stance that is completely out of step with the seriousness of the subject matter.

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        • Adam
          Adam August 1, 2017 at 12:39 pm

          I can picture the meetings now:

          “Those crazy millennials sure do love apps! What if we made Tinder but for distracted driving?”

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  • Reed August 1, 2017 at 11:52 am

    This should be required (in some capacity) for Uber/Lyft driver apps.

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    • Dave August 1, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      Yeah, I find the Uber/Lyft window decals helpful in identifying vehicles with distracted (or soon to be distracted) drivers in them.

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  • MaxD August 1, 2017 at 11:58 am

    I get trying to find a positive, fun way to encourage safe driving, but man does the bar seem low: You get points by not opening your phone?! What about points for stopping at stop signs, not speeding, etc. Opening your phone should erase your points for the day.

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  • Toadslick August 1, 2017 at 11:58 am

    This seems self-selecting to me. The drivers that are my biggest concern, who will speed and blow through crosswalks and pass dangerously to save a few precious seconds, don’t seem like the type to download a “Drive Healthy” app.

    I’d have preferred that the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars that went into this program had gone into infrastructure instead.

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  • John Lascurettes August 1, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    It’s awfully car-headed to assume that all time spent over 15mph automatically makes you a driver. I spend at least as much time as a passenger in a car as I do a driver. And other times I’m on a bus. Then again, I suppose I don’t even need to install this app. When I’m driving, I don’t futz with my phone (except as a passive GPS device and “radio”) — do I win automatically?

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    • John Lascurettes August 1, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      But this app would penalize my points for looking at my phone as a passenger. Dumb.

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  • 9watts August 1, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    “Oregon was inspired by a similar effort in Boston, where they say a safe driver competition resulted in a 47 percent decline in distracted driving. ”

    But did it correspond to a 47 percent decline in crashes/injuries/fatalities that were classified as due to distracted driving? So many ways to screw around with statistics.

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    • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Yes, the article neglected to mention who or where the 47% reduction occurred, nor when, nor even a source. Either poor journalism or “fake news.”

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      • BB August 1, 2017 at 12:57 pm

        While disingenuous, tilting statistics is not the same thing as fabricated propaganda. Assigning the “fake news” designator to everything you don’t like that isn’t political misdirection plays into the way donald trump wants you to think.

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        • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 4:51 pm

          Since I don’t have ‘any skin in the game’ from the last presidential election, as I wrote in Bernie in a state that voted 52% in favor of Donald, please tell me, what specifically is the difference between “tilting statistics” and “fabricated propaganda”?

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      • Chris I August 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm

        I was just in the Boston area, and I can’t imagine the distracted/aggressive driving issue could possibly be worse than it was. How many people were dying before the 47% reduction?!

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  • rachel b August 1, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    I’m happy about anything that works, I guess. Feels like 9 times out of 10 anymore when I look at a driver, their head’s down. And they all just go faster and faster, the more cavalier they get about not looking at the road. It’s completely counterintuitive and cuckoo. People have ZERO sense of responsibility to the community, to the greater good. That quaint notion is just gone here, now.

    Are we toddlers? We need a game that rewards us, simply to do the right thing? Isn’t staying alive and–BONUS!–not killing or endangering others reward enough? I hate the world.

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    • bikeninja August 1, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      You should give these distracted drivers a break. Maybe driving a car just decimated their IQ ( see monday roundup) and now they really don’t know any better.

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      • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 12:46 pm

        Actually, you make a good point. I have heard that playing games is one of the best ways you can prevent IQ loss or even reverse it. Did perhaps ODOT think that by gamifying driving, they can counter the IQ loss and provide health benefits to society that outweigh the epidemic of hit pedestrians and cyclists? It’s probably worth a $4.5 billion study to find out, yes?

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        • rachel b August 1, 2017 at 11:07 pm


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  • Adam
    Adam August 1, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    At this point the State of Oregon seems willing to try anything to change our dangerous culture of distracted driving.

    Anything but redesign our streets to prioritize people over cars, it seems.

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    • bikeninja August 1, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      This gamification thing could be brilliant. To cure this and many other driving problems ODOT ( or DMV) could set up a network of “drive test” game kiosks all around the state in convenient locations like shopping malls and libraries. Then once a year every driver would have to show up at one of these “game tests” where they would pay a small fee and insert their drivers license in to a card reading slot where it would be retained for the duration of the game test. They would do simulated driving and be presented with real world challenges like a cyclist in narrow lane, and it would make their cell phone ring and send them texts. Each time they made a mistake such as passing too close to the cyclist or answering the phone while driving they would receive an electrical shock. After three shocks a whirring sound would come from inside the machine, which would signify their drivers license being ground up. They could then have to go to the DMV for an official driving test before returning to the road.

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    • Alex Reedin August 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      Yeah, seriously. ODOT will do anything for safety – anything that doesn’t cost anything more than a rounding error on their annual motor vehicle infrastructure construction budget, doesn’t involve actually enforcing the law a reasonable percentage of the time, and doesn’t inconvenience folks driving.

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      • 9watts August 1, 2017 at 1:37 pm

        Isn’t this ODOT just the kind of shop you’d imagine young smart folks would be tripping over themselves to work in?

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  • emerson August 1, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Gamification of driving, just like gamification of biking (bike more challenge). Where’s the “eyes rolling” emoji?

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    • Mick O August 1, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      Hang on, i’m driving. Might take me a sec.

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  • Adam
    Adam August 1, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    LOL I love how ODOT’s solution to the problem of people using their phones while driving is a f*cking phone app!! Seriously, could not make this stuff up if I tried.

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  • Andrew Kreps August 1, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    “Oregon was inspired by a similar effort in Boston, where they say a safe driver competition resulted in a 47 percent decline in distracted driving. ”

    What that should have said is “resulted in a 47 percent decline in distracted driving by those who downloaded and used the app.” I’m guessing that’s a pretty small number compared to the number of drivers on the road.

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  • GlowBoy August 1, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    This seems like asking a bunch of teetotalers to pledge not to drive drunk.

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  • JeffS August 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    Giving my personal information away for free? Sign me up.
    Besides, I’m usually too busy putting on my makeup and eating something from the drive-thru to get more than halfway through my twitter feed.

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  • austin August 1, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    “Oregon was inspired by a similar effort in Boston, where they say a safe driver competition resulted in a 47 percent decline in distracted driving. ”
    But did it correspond to a 47 percent decline in crashes/injuries/fatalities that were classified as due to distracted driving? So many ways to screw around with statistics.
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    I read that as:

    “Oregon was inspired by a similar effort in Boston, where they say a safe driver competition resulted in a 47 percent decline in distracted driving. ” … of the app users

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    • 9watts August 1, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      I’m sure there are varying opinions on how to measure distracted driving, not to mention its relationship to what we’re really interested in, which I take to be a reduction in the threat to life and limb that arise from distracted driving. We all know that most distracted driving out there doesn’t result in carnage, though plenty does.
      My point was just that we should be more circumspect in how we measure and think and talk about this subject.

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    • JeffS August 1, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      “With Boston’s Safest Driver, the top 25 percent of drivers reduced distracted driving by 47 percent — that’s a dramatic reduction.”

      Turns out that 47% is even less meaningful than we all assumed.

      From what I’ve seen, these companies/studies are simply attempting to redefine phone use as distracted driving (I’ll spare you the countless links). Meaning, a reduction in distracted driving = less phone use. Distracted driving already had a definition and by conflating the two I suspect they are doing more harm than good.

      As a country, we weren’t willing to require competent and skillful driving before smartphones appeared and we won’t require it after.

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      • Adam
        Adam August 1, 2017 at 3:13 pm

        the top 25 percent of drivers reduced … by 47 percent

        It seems somebody at MassDOT read “How to Lie with Statistics”. So out of the already likely small percentage of drivers using this app, only the top 25 percentile had a reduction of 47%? This is making my head spin. What were the results of the bottom 75%? How significant is 47% of 25% of whatever% of drivers using this app?

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        • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 6:57 pm

          12% of none.

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  • I wear many hats August 1, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Imagine if every cyclist asked drivers to “please put their phone down” every time they passed someone using said devices. It would shame 25% of drivers into changing their behavior. Perhaps the more vocal among us should begin doing this, because this app is garbage, and will do nothing to prevent dangerous driving behavior. I’ve used the AT&T app and it crashes my phone all the time, so much so, that I disabled it. I cant imagine ODOT’s app functioning any better.

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    • B. Carfree August 1, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      I once had a motorist nearly hit me because he was distracted by his vibrating toy. When we got to a red light, I just looked back at him and shook my head in disapproval. He shocked me when he immediately hung up, rolled down his window and apologized. I was speechless.

      However, that was clearly a rare individual who was willing to own his mistakes. I doubt if very many motorists would change their behavior in response to people on bikes and pedestrians asking them to do so. We really need to change our laws to confiscate the vehicle of any and all distracted drivers and make them watch it being crushed (along with their phones). I doubt if we’d have to crush more than a few dozen before we saw an end to distracted driving.

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      • Bikeninja August 1, 2017 at 5:06 pm

        Let’s put the crusher in pioneer courthouse square and do the crushing on Saturday nights accompanied by fireworks and music

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        • emerson August 1, 2017 at 5:27 pm

          People seem to be fascinated by public executions. It could sell.

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        • David Hampsten August 1, 2017 at 6:52 pm

          Yes, it would be as effective in eliminating people’s addiction to distracted driving as prohibition eliminated alcoholism or prison and executions eliminated violent crime.

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      • rachel b August 3, 2017 at 5:27 pm

        I hope he also put away his vibrating toy.


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  • Kevin Wagoner August 1, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    My wife thought this up years ago with a slight twist. Insurance companies could do this and if you crash while on the phone you get some kind of penalty or forfeit your insurance since you weren’t being safe.

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  • El Biciclero August 2, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Now if only we could think of some way to reward people for not driving at all…

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