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Seattle’s ‘Safest Driver’ app shows some promising results

Sample app screenshot from SDOT.

Among the 4,000 or so people who initially downloaded the “Seattle’s Safest Driver” app, speeding decreased 10 percent and phone distraction decreased 15 percent, according to SDOT.

Hard braking and acceleration is also down more than a quarter among the 1,000 users who are most active on the app, a sign that the feedback the app gives on driving style is affecting behavior pretty substantially.

The app is basically a game where people compete to drive more safely than anyone else. And, yes, you get credit for biking and taking the bus, too (the safest way to drive is to not drive at all).

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Using technology in your phone, the app senses when you’re driving and measures location and acceleration data to generate some basic feedback on how you’re doing. After a driving trip is over, users can check in to see how they did (looking at your phone while driving will also lose you points, which is one of my favorite features). The winners will get prizes when the competition ends January 14.

An app isn’t going to fix all the dangers of car culture. Even in Seattle, the U.S. city that has seen some of the biggest increases in street safety in the past decade, serious injuries from traffic collisions increased in 2016. Only bold changes to the design of our streets and a major shift to more walking, biking and transit will get us to Vision Zero.

But at least a couple thousand people are getting some feedback on their driving habits and are making adjustments. It’s also great to see a public street safety education effort that targets driving behavior, the primary cause of most traffic deaths and injuries. So often, agencies focus on the behavior and fashion choices of the victims of traffic violence (I’m looking at you, King County Metro) rather than on the behavior and habits of people driving. 

The results also suggest that the concept of a safe driving app holds promise, worthy of further development. After someone passes their driver’s test, likely as a teenager, there really is no further testing of feedback on their driving skills. Considering how much responsibility you hold when you drive, our society really needs more opportunities for people to get ongoing feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Will someone’s life be spared because a user of this app changed their driving behavior? It’s probably impossible to know. Safer driving is so rarely noticed. I guess that’s the whole point of this app.

More details from SDOT:

Good news – people are changing their behavior for the better!

In the first 14 days of the app being available, across all participants, we saw a 15% decrease in phone distraction and a 10% decrease in speeding.

As we head into the final week and a half of the competition, we’ve got some additional data to share. Out of users with scores of 90 or above (just under 1,000 people), they:

  • decreased their hard braking by 26%
  • decreased their speeding by 10%
  • decreased their phone distraction by 13%
  • decreased their hard acceleration by 28%


The competition officially ends at midnight on January 14. We’ll be announcing the grand prize winners by the end of the month, and in February, plan to release a recap of our findings from the whole competition.

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One response to “Seattle’s ‘Safest Driver’ app shows some promising results”

  1. Ragged Robin

    cool, but I suppose the people using the app will stop caring once the competition is over..

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