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Mayor announces app-based safe driving competition

The City of Boston is launching a competition through the Boston’s Safest Driver app as part of an effort to make city streets safer. PHOTO BY NICOLE GITTER/ DFP FILE PHOTO
The City of Boston is launching a competition through the Boston’s Safest Driver app as part of an effort to make city streets safer. PHOTO BY NICOLE GITTER/ DFP FILE PHOTO

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced the launch of Boston’s Safest Driver Competition, which uses a smartphone app to assess drivers based on five safe driving behaviors, with $9,000 worth of prizes available for winners, according to a Monday press release.

Along with Walsh, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and Vision Zero Boston partnered with Cambridge Mobile Telematics and the Arbella Insurance Foundation to launch the app, the release stated.

Users will be ranked on five different categories, and weekly winners will receive prizes provided by CMT and Arbella. The competition will conclude Dec. 3, and the “safest drivers in the region” will be announced mid-December, according to the release.

The release stated there were 3,179 people killed and 431,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes nationwide in 2014, citing U.S. Department of Transportation data. Those incidents resulted from distracted driving.

Walsh said in the release the app would encourage street users to be cognizant of safety in an appealing way.

“Our top priority is creating streets that are safe for Boston’s pedestrians, cyclists and drivers,” Walsh said in the release. “We know that when drivers are more attentive, we save lives, and this new competition is a fun way to encourage drivers to use more caution when traveling on our streets.”

The app, developed by CMT, assesses drivers on their “rapid acceleration, harsh braking, sharp turns, at-risk speeding, and phone distraction,” according to the release.

CMT co-founder Samuel Madden said the app’s software and algorithms are dependent on data from smartphone features, such as the accelerometer, and other connected devices.

“The underlying sensors in smartphones are extremely accurate; it’s surprising how sensitive they are to motion,” Madden said. “They can detect various small changes in acceleration and vibration.”

Madden said CMT hopes to make Boston “roads safer by making drivers better.” He said drivers will develop safer habits and behaviors through using the app.

“One of the things that we’ve seen with similar programs that we’ve run in other parts of the world is that drivers within 30 days of using the app … will reduce the time they spend on the phone by up to 30 percent and can reduce the amount of speeding that they engage in by up to 20 percent,” Madden said. “We think those behavioral changes will have a really positive impact towards making the roads safer.”

Brenna Morrissey, marketing support coordinator of Arbella, said the insurance group partnered with the city as part of supporting nonprofit organizations, especially those that promote safety.

“We are always taking a stand against dangerous driving practices including distracted driving and drunk driving,” Morrissey said. “We’re definitely committed to making the streets safer and the city streets safer and the Boston’s Safest Driver Competition is the perfect way to get the community together to achieve of safer streets.”

Several Boston residents said the city’s drivers, especially Boston drivers, are notorious for unsafe driving, and the app may not solve the problems that come from reckless drivers. 

Atria Horton, 32, of Roxbury, said Boston drivers are irresponsible and the safe driving competition would not convince such drivers in changing their attitudes.

“I would definitely say [Boston drivers are] unsafe,” she said. “I’m sure it would help the people already being safe. But I don’t think it would necessarily help those being unsafe.”

Donna Connor, 49, of the West End, said Boston drivers have not been embracing safety measures, and that the app’s effectiveness depends on the prizes’ appeal.

“They’re a little crazy in general,” she said. “Massachusetts drivers have a reputation for being a little aggressive, so I would classify Boston drivers the same way.”

Connie Poulous, 63, of Brighton, said she hopes the competition would help promote safety to Boston drivers — many of whom do not drive safely.

“Oh, they are insane,” she said. “A lot of them are unsafe. There’s some safe ones, though … I hope [the competition would promote safe driving] — anything that they can do to tame them.”

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Breanne is a former editor-in-chief and city news editor. She is a senior in the College of Communication and an oxford comma enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @breannekovatch.

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