Here’s how free coffee could reduce distracted driving in Japan

Three companies including Toyota, KDDI Corporation, and coffee company Komeda will launch an app that will reward drivers with free coffee for driving without using a phone. According to Toyota, this is the first project in Japan to combat distracted driving, and it will begin in Aichi prefecture, which has the highest number of traffic fatalities in Japan.

The app is pretty straightforward. Install it on the phone, set the phone face-down, and let it record the distance you drive without touching the phone. The app uses the gyroscopic sensors to recognize if you start using the phone. Once you hit 100 kilometers, you get a free coffee from Komeda, and every 200 kilometers after that earns another cup.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen apps released that incentivize safer driving, or specifically avoiding distracted driving. Most recently, a student at Middlebury College created an app called JoyRyde that provides reward points that can be redeemed for various items. Another app, called SafeDrive, offers a similar experience, but points earned are used for discounts on products instead of as full payment. It also features a function that lets you compare your driving behavior with friends. However, these are all independent apps that offer a wider array of redeemable goods and services for safe driving than the coffee app in Japan. Everyone knows coffee is a strong motivator, too. If Starbucks launched an app like this, we might see distracted driving accidents drop overnight.

We also think implementing something like the Japanese coffee app would be great for insurance companies. Both State Farm and Allstate have phone apps that let them track how smoothly or aggressively you drive to adjust your insurance rates or provide discounts. Progressive also has a device that works similarly except that it plugs into the car’s OBD port. None of these devices monitor cell phone usage. There is an insurance company in Australia, AAMI, that offers an app with both driver monitoring features. It seems like a great opportunity for companies to prevent drivers from crashing and filing claims, and for drivers to possibly get lower rates. Seems like a no-brainer for American companies.

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