The AutoModus app; Survey into the effect of an app on reducing smartphone use while driving a car
Within the programme SlimOpWeg the Dutch insurance company Interpolis had a smartphone app developed. The purpose of this ‘AutoModus app’ is to help young drivers to reduce their smartphone use behind the wheel, as distraction by mobile phone use is a major road safety problem. Interpolis asked SWOV to investigate the effectiveness of two versions of the app: 1. a version in which one receives compliments by not using the smartphone while driving, and 2. a version in which one also receives points to exchange for gifts in addition to getting compliments. Both versions of the app were found to reduce self-reported smartphone use in the car significantly. The apps also reduced the score on smartphone addiction, and they strengthened the degree of risk perception, i.e. the extent to which smartphone use while driving is considered to be dangerous. Participants in the rewards group who used the app longer, reduced their smartphone use somewhat more than participants in this group who used the app for a briefer period. Participants in the compliments group reduced their smartphone use regardless of how long they used the app.
To date no research had been done in the Netherlands into the effects of apps in reducing phone use among road users. This questionnaire study on the Interpolis app is the first study in which this effect has been investigated.
Survey among 465 young novice drivers
Together with Interpolis, SWOV investigated the effect of both versions of the app on self-reported smartphone use among young novice drivers in the age group 18 - 24 years old. Participants who had signed up in advance, filled in a pre-test questionnaire and were then randomly assigned to one of three groups: the rewards app group, the compliments app group or the control group (Table 1). The two groups used the app during four weeks, filled in the second questionnaire, then used the app for four more weeks and finally filled in the third questionnaire. The control group did not use the app, but filled in the questionnaire at the same times.
2 November 2015 7 December 2015 4 Januari
2016 Number of participants
Initial questionnaire Compliments app Questionnaire after four weeks Compliments app Questionnaire after eight weeks N = 141
Rewards app Rewards app N = 153
No app (control group) No app (control group) N = 171
Table 1. Design of the Interpolis SlimOpWeg experiment: the AutoModus app.
AutoModus app reduces smartphone use while driving
After four weeks, participants with an AutoModus app indicate that they use their mobile phone significantly less frequently while driving than they reported doing before the study. After eight weeks this effect had remained the same. The decline in self-reported smartphone use that was observed among control group participants was much less strong. These findings are the basis for our conclusion that the AutoModus app significantly reduces smartphone use while driving. The slightly reduced smartphone use by the control group may be explained by the fact that they too, by completing the questionnaires, are extra aware of the dangers that smartphone use behind the wheel entails.
The effectiveness of the app is not affected by whether participants save up for gifts or just receive compliments.
Using the AutoModus app has led to a small, but statistically significant decrease in self-reported smartphone use among young drivers. This effect could be observed after four weeks, and also present after eight weeks. Using the app also increases awareness of the hazards of smartphone use while driving and the app has a positive effect on smartphone addiction. Both versions of the app equally reduce smartphone use in the car, but the compliments app seems to be less sensitive to the duration of the use and to the appreciation of the app. A possible explanation for this is that the compliments app addresses intrinsic motivation by focussing more on behavioural change, rather than on the rewards.
As distraction by smartphone use is an important road safety issue, the results of this study are very relevant. They show that this risky behaviour can be positively influenced by a relatively simple and low-threshold intervention. From the road safety point of view, we therefore advise to continue to roll out the AutoModus app and to stimulate the use of the app by young drivers. This should of course be done in addition to clear legislation and regulation, enforcement and education. Furthermore, it is recommended to also monitor the damages of participants, if the app is going to be more widely used. This makes it possible to establish whether the number of claims for damages decreases as a result of using the AutoModus app.