I was driving, hands at 10 and two, admiring the sun glittering off the still waters of Buffalo Bayou, when I felt the buzz in my pocket. I felt an overwhelming urge to pull it out and check whatever text message or email I’d received. But I fought that urge. After all, my phone was stowed away in my jeans for a purpose.
Having just downloaded the SAFE2SAVE app, founded in 2016 by Marci Corry to combat distracted driving in Texas, I knew that the app would know that I’d picked up my phone, and therefore stop counting the points I’d been adding up simply by driving without checking my phone.
I won that round, but in that moment was acutely aware of how accustomed I’d become to checking my phone—however briefly—while behind the wheel of a vehicle.
The SAFE2SAVE app—which currently has about 125,000 users and is adding about 1,000 per day, through one of its new sponsors, the Memorial Hermann Life Flight—follows a basic premise: It alerts users when they've picked up or used their phones when their cars are in motion, sending a pop-up notification asking them not to “tech and drive.”
For every minute users spend driving over a certain speed, the app awards them points for driving undistracted. These can be used at businesses that partner with the app to provide rewards and discounts on food and merchandise. Participants so far include Hugs & Donuts and Chick-fil-A.
When I downloaded SAFE2SAVE, I admitted to being one of the almost 90 percent of Texans who pick up their phones at some point during their drives, according to a survey put out in 2017 by AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign. But being reminded of that fact through the app’s polite reminder helped me realize that wasn’t okay.
Tom Flanagan, vice president of Trauma Service Line and System Integration at Memorial Hermann, thinks SAFE2SAVE can make a difference, particularly among younger drivers. “If we can impact one person’s life through any of these initiatives, I truly believe we've been successful,” he says. “I believe it's more than one, but even if it's just one person, it's worth it."
While using the app, I realized just how much a driver can miss when they take their eyes off the road—cars darting out from parking lots, slamming their breaks, and speeding on Houston’s highways. Houston, by the way, is the most unsafe city in the country for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians, according to analysis by the Houston Chronicle. The Texas Department of Transportation documented a 62 percent rise in distracted-driving accidents from 2016 to 2017.
After spending about a month with the app, I started to enjoy racking up all those points. Yes, there was a moment or two when my willpower ran out and, after doing a quick 360-degree check of my surroundings, I quickly checked my phone. Honestly, the biggest issue that I faced at the wheel was boredom.
I think the app is a great idea, particularly for new drivers. As for me, it was a good reminder to keep my phone in my pocket. After using the app for a few weeks, I’d earned over 1,200 points. What did I get for all of that responsible driving? I traded those points in for a full meal at Chick-fil-A. It was definitely worth it.