Using the Lure of Free Coffee to Reduce Distracted Driving

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There are lots of reasons we shouldn’t drive and use our phones. Chief among them is the possibility that we’ll cause an accident and kill somebody. That should be more than enough to convince anyone, but distracted driving is still a problem. If you live in Japan, your latest incentive to put down the phone and drive is the promise of free coffee.

It’s a combined safety initiative between Toyota, coffee company Komeda, and communication company KDDI Corporation. This is the first effort of its kind in Japan and they targeted an area in desperate need of smartphone control.

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Aichi prefecture has the highest number of traffic fatalities in the country and has held that dubious honor for 13 years. Smartphones can’t be blamed for every accident, but 50,101 arrests involving smartphone use proves they’re a big part of the problem. According to a recent survey, about 60 percent of area residents say they use their smartphones while driving.

To participate in the new program, all residents need to do is download an app and then let it record with the screen face down while they drive. Using gyroscopic sensors, it knows if they pick up the phone. Participants earn a free cup of Komeda coffee at 100 kilometers of phone-free driving and then continue to earn a new cup at each additional 200 kilometers.

The launch of the program is timed to coincide with the government’s Autumn Traffic Safety Campaign which runs from September 21 through 30. They’re giving residents a chance to earn that free coffee through October 6. For Toyota, it’s part of their goal to achieve zero traffic fatalities and zero accidents. The safety technology in today’s cars can do a lot of the work, but responsible driving habits are a key part of making Japan’s roads safer.

It’s an interesting use of gamification, the idea of using game design techniques to motivate people to specific results. We like to be rewarded for achieving goals. It’s the reason it feels so good when you finally get that last punch on your free coffee card. You’re more likely to stay loyal to that shop for the satisfaction of earning that coffee. The same idea applies to driving without using your phone.

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The challenge for Aichi is to not only get people to change their ways during the promotion but to get them to change their ways for good. Once the free coffee is gone, the game ends and people might go right back to their old ways.

Image: Ian Sane