Boston engaged citizens to share data online about unsafe streets and developed a competitive gaming app that encouraged residents to improve their driving behaviors, with the goal of decreasing traffic-related fatalities.
Boston had a long-standing reputation as a city filled with terrible drivers. That reputation was somewhat justified: It had a high level of crashes per capita, and had been ranked “worst city to drive in” by Allstate Insurance based on the frequency of insurance claims. Mayor Marty Walsh launched a Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths by 2030, but many residents were unaware of the city’s efforts. Policy changes like lowering the speed limit could only go so far. Drivers needed additional incentives to alter their behavior.
The city’s Vision Zero Task Force, which includes city agencies and community members, helped develop the Boston’s Safest Driver app. Working with multiple partners, they built a competitive game that assesses driver behaviors, like harsh braking and phone distraction, and increases self-awareness of driving habits. Participants received a score based on their actions and were ranked against other drivers in the metro area. They could also compete against their friends. Each week, the city awarded prizes to the best drivers, and the mayor crowned Boston’s Safest Driver at the conclusion of the competition at a ceremony in City Hall in January 2017. Drivers were also encouraged to contribute to the crowdsourced Safety Concerns map, where thousands of people logged unsafe streets and intersections.
In the pilot alone, more than 3 million miles were logged on 274,000 driving trips. For the top 25 percent of active users of the app, phone distraction dropped by 47 percent, speeding dropped by 35 percent, and harsh braking was reduced by 37 percent. Users reported an increased awareness of Vision Zero efforts, and the city was able to collect data about driver behavior to guide policy decisions.
The competition is part of a multidimensional approach to the issue of driver safety. Although Boston may not be the safest driving city in the country (yet), it has seen a decrease in traffic deaths over the past two years. The city plans to work with large employers and other partners to expand participation in Boston and the surrounding metro area, and other cities and the surrounding metro area, and other cities and states are starting to use the app as well.
“It was a humbling experience. I had to put my ego in the backseat and let other cars pass me. I’m a changed driver.”
– Deidre Manning, awarded Boston’s Safest Driver in 2017