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Free App Seeks to Make Everyone a Safer Driver

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DriveWell app

DriveWell app, image courtesy of Cambridge Mobile Telematics

Boston was named recently by Allstate Insurance as having the worst drivers of any major U.S. metro area. But a company based in neighboring Cambridge has created a free app to make drivers safer, as Sacha Pheiffer and Lynn Jolicoeur write for 90.0WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. Hari Balakrishnan, developer of Cambridge Mobile Telematics’ “DriveWell,” says the app has made him a better driver, and he is using it to teach his children about safe driving.

Balakrishnan told WBUR:

‘I had a really poor score when I started. Now it’s safe to say that not only am I a better driver because I don’t touch my phone while I’m driving, but my kids, who sit in the backseat, if they see me touch the phone they start telling me that I’m going to get into trouble. So it’s actually taught them a lot.’

Hari Balakrishnan, courtesy Cambridge Mobile Telematics

Hari Balakrishnan, courtesy Cambridge Mobile Telematics

Balakrishnan, a professor at MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, told CBS Boston that the mobile app turns on when you get in the car. Keeping track of a driver’s speed, braking, turns (smooth or rough), and when the driver picks up the phone to call or text, it then rates the driver — green stars for good driving behavior and red stars for bad behavior. “If you tailgate, the app will likely detect that, too, since tailgaters are often notorious for frequent hard braking,” writes WBUR.

A lot of people claim not to use their phone while driving, but the app makes those drivers aware of their bad behavior, “and then they say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re right,’ ” WBUR quotes Balakrishnan as saying. The app gives drivers feedback on how they can improve their driving, WBUR writes.

Sam Madden, a co-founder of CMT, along with Balakrishnan and Bill Powers, told CBS Boston that the app changes the way a driver thinks and “is something that is always kind of in the back of your mind.” He, too, says it has improved his driving behavior. Balakrishnan, a winner of MIT’s prestigious Harold Edgerton faculty achievement award for research and teaching excellence, told CBS Boston that the app is a positive reinforcement to improve driving, in the same way that Fit Bit improves a person’s fitness. “Good drivers are made, not born,” he said.

CBS reported in September that the app was being tested in South Africa, where Discovery Insure, the insurance company sponsoring it, offered incentives such as free gasoline to drivers with good scores. Anton Ossip, Discovery’s CEO, said drivers who use the app have significantly lower rates of car accidents, and the accidents they do have are less serious, WBUR writes. The app will be available in Boston in about a month, CBS writes.


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