Challenged by the public health threat of distracted driving among teens, students from UGA’s College of Public Health and School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) designed an app that will potentially save lives. This innovative policy tool took first place at the University of Pennsylvania’s National Invitational Public Policy Challenge held March 24-26 in Philadelphia.
[Photo: UGA students (from left) Ms. Hilary Carruthers, Ms. Laura Pontari, Mr. Oluwatobi “Tobi” Olagunju and Ms. Sara Richey created the TurnKey app to reward teens for safer driving habits.]
The team—consisting of Master of Public Administration students Ms. Laura Pontari and Ms. Sara Richey, Doctor of Public Health student Hilary Carruthers, and Master of Public Health student Oluwatobi “Tobi” Olagunju — received $10,000 to complete the development of TurnKey, a mobile app designed to dissuade high school students from texting and driving. Grace Bagwell Adams, assistant professor of health policy and management in the College of Public Health, and W. David Bradford, George D. Busbee Chair in Public Policy in SPIA, were the UGA team’s faculty sponsors.
“The Fels Policy Challenge is transformative for students–they have the opportunity to build something innovative that has potential for real, sustainable change in their communities,” said Dr. Bagwell Adams. “It is inspiring to watch these ideas come to fruition.”
The TurnKey app uses behavioral economics such as positive reinforcements to encourage students to engage in safer driving techniques. For each minute a student does not interact with their phone while driving, they earn points that eventually earn them prizes. Basic participation – opening the app and beginning to drive without any phone interaction—earns students points they can trade in for various coupon offers. Higher performing students will have their names entered into a drawing each semester for the chance to win a larger grand prize. In addition, students who team up to participate in the app’s group competitions can claim awards that include bonus points or a group pizza party.
“TurnKey has implications for public safety and public health,” said Bagwell Adams. “The application of behavioral science and technology to alter individual behavior in this context could save lives in Athens and other communities.”
In collaboration with an app developer and the local Athens-Clarke County School District, the TurnKey team will launch the pilot phase of the app at one Athens-area high school in fall 2017 and eventually span out to others.
The TurnKey team brings home UGA’s second national win at the National Invitational Policy Challenge. Hosted by Penn’s Fels Institute of Government, the by-invitation-only policy competition challenges student teams to develop a comprehensive policy proposal and civic campaign plan addressing an issue specific to their university’s local community. UGA was among four schools named as semi-finalists, including the Georgetown University, University of Texas at Austin and University of Pennsylvania.