Several years ago, Ted Chen W’87, L’91 and his buddy Mike Demele both had sons approaching driving age. The Silicon Valley dads had been contemplating a side project in app development, when they had a eureka moment: to create an app to reduce cell phone distracted driving. In 2013 the pair founded LifeSaver. Shortly thereafter, Chen and Demele left their full-time jobs to focus on LifeSaver and haven’t looked back since.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Chen said. “LifeSaver is such a uniquely fulfilling opportunity, allowing us to focus our energies on a mission that not only presents an interesting business challenge, but is also deeply rooted in a problem that’s very personally relevant for us, our families and our society.”
The LifeSaver solution hinges on accountability: The user typically agrees to use the app (free for iOS and Android) with the knowledge that another party (parents or employers, for example) can view his or her data regarding app usage and compliance through a dashboard, which can be accessed by mobile device or desktop.
The app, which uses GPS technology and other location services on the phone to detect driving, blocks a driver’s screen access to their phone while the car is in motion, but it allows for a user to unlock the phone for an emergency or if the user is a passenger. In those cases, actions to unlock the phone are recorded (time and location), so that this information can be used by the family member or employer to keep the driver honest.
Chen said distracted driving has become a new American epidemic. “One in four collisions is being caused by cell-phone related driving, according to the National Safety Council,” he said. “This is a recent phenomenon that’s getting worse every day. In 10 short years, our addiction to smartphones has become the number one problem on our roadways—we need to find a simple and effective way to curb this epidemic.”
LifeSaver has garnered the attention of many parents and driver-safety organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The solution has been validated by millions of miles of consumer driving and endorsed by national safe-driving advocates like Jacy Good from Hang Up and Drive, Chen said. Chen has even spoken with the California legislature about requiring drivers cited for distracted driving to use a product that prevents distracted driving and confirms the driver’s usage.
LifeSaver could be a boon for the auto insurance industry, which is experiencing a huge increase in frequency and severity of auto claims due to cell phone-related crashes. Chen said it is costing those insurers more than $30 billion annually. Moreover, he said, companies in general and especially those with fleets are looking for ways to increase their employees’ safety behind the wheel and also protect their company from the potential liability arising from employee crashes caused by cell phone distracted driving. Not surprisingly, LifeSaver is garnering a lot of interest from fleets looking to protect themselves from this issue. Chen plans to further monetize through insurance partnerships and fleet licenses.
“Originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of the Penn Law Journal”