How small rewards add up to safer roads and lives saved.

Distracted driving due to smartphone usage has become the number one cause of road accidents. Every year over a quarter of a million people die because they themselves or someone else was responding to a call or reading their messages behind the wheel. The Mobilio App values distraction free minutes with points which you can exchange for a cryptocurrency called Mobilio, or MOB Token. This reward helps to resist the temptation to use the phone while driving, gradually making the roads safer for us all.

Distracted driving kills

The urge to respond to a message as soon as it is received — even one as benign as, “Could you pick up some milk?” is so great that it has become a leading cause of traffic accidents, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Thousands of lives have been ended, with countless more forever affected by injury, imprisonment, or the life-long guilt of having killed or maimed — all thanks to the distraction caused by something as small as looking down to press the ‘thumbs-up’ button on a touchscreen while driving.

Distracted driving is now the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents, which are the leading cause of death for people under thirty, according to the WHO in their Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018. Distracted driving includes many types of distraction, from personal grooming to gawking at accidents, but distraction caused by phone use is now the single biggest offender.

According to a 2015 report from the US National Safety Council, phone use is a factor in over a quarter of all car crashes, more than those caused by drunk driving and speeding, the two other leading causes of accidents.

As smartphones have gained influence in our lives, the problem of distracted driving is worsening. Studies show that the dramatic rise in cellphone adoption corresponds with the equally dramatic rise in distracted driving fatalities. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrated that fatalities from distracted driving in the US increased 28% between 2005 and 2008. During that same period, cellphone ownership in the US went from about 65% to 85%.

People know distracted driving kills, but they do it anyway

The campaign against distracted driving, much like the campaign against drunk driving before it, was borne out of tragedy. When Shelley Forney’s 9-year-old daughter was struck and killed by a person looking down at their phone while driving, grief drove her to action. Shelley began telling her story in hopes that she’d have an impact on other potentially distracted drivers. She founded an advocacy group called Focus Driven, she appeared on numerous high-profile venues including CNN and Oprah, and she was instrumental in having US Congress designate in 2010 the month of April as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Thanks to the work of Shelley and countless others like her, distracted driving is now recognized by most people as a serious issue. A 2017 poll conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that 87.6% of drivers in the US support legislation against reading, typing or sending a text message or email while driving. Legislators around the world have responded in turn with increasingly strict penalties for distracted driving, particularly for phone use while driving. Texting while driving is now banned in 19 states, most European countries, and most other high-income countries.

Yet, while drivers are aware of the dangers and the penalties for distracted driving, they continue to do it. The previously mentioned 2017 AAA report – in which most people agreed that distracted driving must be stopped – also found that 44.9% of drivers had read a text message or email and 34.6% of drivers had typed or sent a text message or email while driving within the last 30 days. Researchers in Europe have encountered similar results. For example, in a 2008 study conducted in the United Kingdom, 45% of drivers admitted to text messaging while driving.

Internet Addiction Disorder and the psychology of addiction

For many, the urge to check their phone can now be considered pathological. Internet Addiction Disorder emerged as a clinical disorder in the mid-90s and, although a standardized diagnosis of the disorder has yet to be achieved, numerous studies show that prevalence is now reaching epidemic proportions. In China, research shows that over a quarter of the population has the disorder while globally studies estimate that between 3-10% of the population can be said to suffer from full-blown addiction to the internet – with mobile devices now being the primary interface. Emotional symptoms of the disorder include depression and anxiety, while physical symptoms include headaches and insomnia. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability and even physical illness.

While a relatively small percentage of people can be considered to have full-fledged addiction to the internet, a much higher percentage are moderately addicted. 2016 research showed that average users engaged in 76 separate phone sessions per day, touching their screen over 2500 times over the course of 145 minutes of daily usage. Pew Research found that nearly half of people say they could not live without their smartphone while Japanese research found that half of teens in that country ‘felt addicted’ to their phones.

With nearly unlimited research and development resources at their disposal, popular apps like Facebook and Instagram are expertly engineered and extremely addictive. The psychological mechanism employed by the most popular apps exploits the same ‘weakness’ in the human brain that causes people to become addicted to gambling. Psychologists use the term ‘intermittent rewards’ to refer to the tiny release of dopamine, the reward-and-pleasure neurotransmitter, every time we click on a notification. Gamblers experience the same dopamine release every time they pull the handle on a slot machine, or just as a card is revealed.

Why punishment doesn’t work

There is a disconnect between the widespread awareness of the problem of distracted driving and a corresponding change in behavior. This is largely due to the nature of addiction and the inability of justice systems to mete out instant punishment. The difficulty can be summarized as such: when rewards are instant and guaranteed but penalties are delayed and inconsistent, most people are willing to risk a vague and distant penalty in exchange for a clear and instant reward.

The three components of deterrence theory relate to the certainty, celerity (speed), and severity of punishment. For crimes like illegal drug use, all three components tend to rank insignificantly in the mind of the user because punishment is long delayed and far from certain. For a drug user who is weighing the slim potential for punishment against the instant reward provided by consumption of the drug, consuming the drug always wins.

Not surprisingly, study after study has shown that punishment is not the most effective deterrent for addiction. A comprehensive scientific review of documents on the topic led to a 2016 Surgeon General Report on Addiction recommending the US “implement criminal justice reforms to transition to a less punitive and more health-focused approach [to addiction].”

When it comes to distracted driving, research supports the same conclusion. For example, a 2009 study of teenage drivers’ phone use in South Carolina found that when phone use was legally restricted, it “had little to no effect on teenage drivers’ use of cell phones shortly after the law took effect.”

Other research on traffic penalties also supports the same conclusion. A study on speeding tickets, for example, found that “legal consequences had no significant effect on the risk of receiving a repeat speeding citation.”

To summarize, penalties are not effective in stopping distracted driving for the same reasons they don’t stop illegal drug use: the combination of addiction on the one hand and delayed or non-existent punishment on the other. But if penalties won’t work, what will?

How to promote positive behavior: rewards are the answer

United Nations research on drug addiction concludes that treatment is most effective when it offers desirable alternatives, including financial and social incentives. In other words, to break the cycle of addiction, people need to be rewarded for their positive behavior.

When it comes to safe driving, studies support the same general conclusion: Incentivizing safe driving behavior leads to positive change. A 2012 study found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that drivers provided with a monetary reward for staying under the speed limit, managed to significantly reduce their speeding. A similar 2011 study reach the same conclusion.

It seems the best way to fight addiction is by replacing a problematic behavior with a positive one. To counteract the urge that compels so many drivers to risk their own life and the lives of others by checking their phone while driving, therefore, incentives are needed — and that’s the rationale behind Mobilio’s rewards for ‘Proof of Safe Driving’.

Get rewarded for distraction free driving

The Mobilio app leverages the same ‘weakness’ in the human brain that has allowed so many of us to succumb to addictions of all kinds, but it does so to instead promote positive behavior. By continually rewarding users with a real currency for the simple ‘non-action’ of not interacting with their phone while driving, the Mobilio app counteracts the deadly urge to check your phone while driving. Our proof of concept, tested over 2 years in 3 European countries, has already proven the effectiveness of our system. People enjoy collecting distraction free driving points enough to effect positive change. When they start using the app, they are far less likely to be distracted by their phone while driving, lowering their chance of having an accident.