Smartphone-Based Nudges to Reduce Distracted Driving
Scott Halpern, MD, PhD
Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD
Ian Barnett, PhD
Flaura Winston, MD, PhD
Catherine McDonald, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dylan Small, PhD
Douglas Wiebe, PhD
Federal Highway Administration Exploratory Advanced Research Program
Abramson Family Foundation Award
Distracted driving is estimated to contribute to more than 3,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries annually in the United States.
Usage-based insurance (UBI) policies enable customers to earn discounts on their premiums based on safe driving habits – which are tracked through smartphone telematics apps. UBIs present a tremendous opportunity to deploy smartphone-enabled behavioral interventions to promote safer driving on a meaningful scale.
Interventions and Impact
We tested interventions to reduce hand-held phone use while driving across two nationwide, randomized controlled trials involving Progressive Snapshot customers.
The first trial investigated the separate and joint impact of incentives and information framing. And the results show that the standard way UBI incentives are delivered—delayed, gain-framed, with minimal feedback during the rating period—may not effectively counter the immediate rewards people experience from using their phones. Instead, we found that pairing frequent, loss-framed rewards with social comparison feedback was much more effective. The proportion of time participants engaged in hand-held use while driving decreased in three of the five treatment arms relative to control, with the most significant relative reduction coming in at around 23 percent.
The second trial focused on shifting participants from a risky habit (hand-held phone use while driving) to a less risky one (hands-free use) over a 70-day intervention period. There were five arms, with each successive arm adding an intervention on top of what the other arms delivered:
- Education-only control
- Free phone mount
- Goal commitment plus habit tips
- Gamification plus social competition
- Financial incentives tied to gamification and competition performance
The proportion of time participants engaged in hand-held use while driving decreased in arms 4 and 5 relative to the control, with the greatest relative reduction of about 25 percent happening in arm 5.
Together, these trials demonstrate the impact that behavioral interventions can have in motivating individuals to cut back on risky driving habits. Applying insights from these studies to future interventions could reduce vehicular accidents and the economic and human toll they cause.