The 2024 Nudges in Health Care Symposium will take place September 26–27 in Philadelphia. Learn more and register

Smartphone-Based Nudges to Reduce Distracted Driving

Smartphone-Based Nudges to Reduce Distracted Driving

Project status

Pilot/study with results


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 

Innovation leads


Federal Highway Administration Exploratory Advanced Research Program  

Abramson Family Foundation Award 

External partners

Progressive Insurance 


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 21 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: 

  1. Education-only control 
  2. Free phone mount 
  3. Goal commitment plus habit tips 
  4. Gamification plus social competition 
  5. 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. 

Way to Health Specs

Learn more about the platform
Activity monitoring
Arms and randomization
Criteria-based rules
Dashboard view
Device integration
EHR integration
Multiple languages
Patient portal messaging
Patient-reported outcomes capture
Photo messaging
Remote patient monitoring
Schedule-based rules
Survey administration
Two-way texting
Vitals monitoring