Mobile

Friends don’t let friends text and drive: Road Wars turns safe driving into a game

Above: Checking your cellphone while behind the wheel is a no-no in Road Wars, an app that carries a lofty goal: Making you a better driver.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Texting and driving is actually more dangerous than drinking and driving.

With the goal of making people more focused, careful, and law-abiding drivers, Road Wars launched its mobile app today.

Paul English started the project; he’a founder and current CTO of Kayak. English said after a decade with the company, he is scaling back his role to work on new projects. The inspiration for Road Wars arose out of teaching his two teenagers to drive.

“Teaching them has made me very cognizant of my own driving,” English said in an interview. “Kids model themselves on your behavior, so I have become much more aware of speeding on the highway or when I pick up my phone to text at a stoplight. These are dangerous things to do. People learn to drive when they are 16 and never take a refresher course again.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 3.01.41 PMRoad Wars gamifies the driving experience by rewarding users for following good driving practices and penalizing them for excessive acceleration, braking and swerving, and interacting with their phone.

The GPS and accelerometer in your smartphone gather data as you drive and provide feedback. For every 10 minutes of safe driving, you earn virtual currency. If you consistently drive well, you can “capture roads,” which English described as like earning “mayor” status on Foursquare. Driving over the speed limit or texting and driving costs you virtual currency.

The app is social, so you can see how you compare to your Facebook friends who are also into Road Wars. People can also “play” when they aren’t driving by viewing roads their friends have captured and “attacking” friends, in an effort to take over their roads. It also has challenges involving virtual dice where people can earn coins.

Ultimately, Road Wars’ goal is to train drivers to avoid distracted driving behavior, which is a big problem in the U.S. More than 3,000 people die each year in crashes involving a distracted driver, and nearly 400,000 people are injured. The largest proportion of drivers involved in these casualties are under the age of 20.

“There was that huge ‘friends don’t let friends drive drunk’ campaign, but for whatever reason there is not as much outrage over texting,” English said. “If your friend is drinking a six pack of beer in the car, that wouldn’t be OK, but we don’t get mad about someone texting.”

roadwarsHuman error accounts or a whopping 90 percent of road accidents, and until self-driving cars enter the mainstream, mobile technology is one way to help people drive safely. Apps like Drivewise.ly and Zendrive gather data on your driving habits and gives you a score and rewards for driving well, but English said Road Wars is more social and engaging than its rivals, which will make people more likely to use it.

Social accountability and competition are powerful behavioral motivators.

Kayak was the fifth company English founded. He said Road Wars is one of many future projects he has in mind. For the moment, he is not focusing on developing a business model. He wants to create the “perfect, fun game”  that makes people better drivers and will explore monetization options like discounts on insurance or gift card rewards down the road. 

Road Wars is based in Boston.


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