Gridlock Guy: TASL app tastily rewards attentive driving

This App Saves Lives awards drivers for keeping their eyes on the road and their hands off their phones.

We began Distracted Driving Awareness Month with a story about the DeLoach family tragically losing their daughter, Abbie, and how they turned that into positive causes. We end April with a story that stopped short of a tragedy, but again highlights a driving epidemic and a nifty solution.

This App Saves Lives or TASL (pronounced “tassel”) measures how drivers use their phones and pays rewards for good behavior.

“A couple of years ago, I was out on my bike for my normal morning ride and, unfortunately, a driver ran a red light, while sending a text message,” TASL co-founder and CEO Ryan Frankel told the AJC and 95.5 WSB. While Frankel saw the distracted driver and took some evasive action, a glancing blow landed him with several bone breaks, after a tumble over his handlebars. “The genesis for TASL started out with me personally experiencing the pain point,” Frankel said, adding that phone distractions are a part of two million wrecks per year in the U.S. alone.

This app was born at the intersection of good and bad luck. “The morning that I was actually involved in this accident, was the morning I was supposed to meet with the CEO that would ultimately acquire my first technology company,” Frankel recalled. After selling, Frankel had to decide his next venture. “I’m a big believer, as an entrepreneur, that you should be spending your time and calories on things that you personally feel passionate about.” Frankel’s research found that most methods to curb distracted driving involved punishment, so he wanted to try a different approach.

“Really, we use rewards to stimulate positive change. So it is a ‘carrot’, not the ‘stick’ approach,” Frankel said. “We want to make it attainable, so we don’t want you to have to feel like you have to drive across the nation for a free meal at Shake Shack, but we don’t want it to be so easy that you can just drive to the end of your driveway and back and then earn amazing rewards.” Frankel noted that catching people breaking the law is tough, which is why he helped create something that makes the laws more effective.

“[Drivers] set it up once and effectively forget it - it runs in the background each time you get behind the wheel and drive,” Frankel explained. TASL gives drivers one point per minute that they drive undistracted and the app’s standards are quite high.

“The technology knows what you’re doing on your phone behind the wheel. For instance, if you want to use your phone to use navigation, make hands-free phone calls or for streaming your favorite music or radio show...that’s absolutely fine,” Frankel said. “But the second you go to really meaningfully interact with your phone, to take your eyes off the phone, to check the web, to send an email, to scroll your Facebook feed, and so on and so forth, we deem that as a distraction. So not only do you stop earning points, we actually take points away for the distracted driving activities.”

To earn points, the phone has to stay in the lock screen or with the TASL app running in the foreground, if unlocked. The app has tips in its settings section, such as setting the phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode, so drivers can set themselves up for success. TASL also has a tab that allows a driver to navigate to Google or Apple Maps, so the app won’t measure using navigation as a distraction. The app can also measure how long a driver is fiddling with Apple CarPlay and will deem that legal interaction distracting,if it takes too long. Frankel said the app takes away five points per distraction.

TASL is a business, not a non-profit; the company sells sponsorships to the companies that then provide the rewards for which drivers redeem their safe-driving TASL points. Shake Shack, Insomnia Cookies, Nuts to You, and Picky Bars, are among those food and drink companies. Drivers can also get discounts on other kinds of items, including Shark Tank-funded products. Frankel’s translation app VerbalizeIt was funded by Shark Tank’s investors several years ago, which eventually allowed him to parlay it into developing TASL.

TASL also gets revenue from businesses who want to create safe-driving campaigns with their employees, another way to gamify or compete to drive good change.

Taking long drives or even sitting in slow traffic provide great opportunities to rack up TASL points. The app automatically measures movement, so drivers don’t need to activate it. Passengers should open the app and tell TASL they are passengers, so they don’t get docked points for using their phones. However, if a passenger takes a nap and their phone is locked, they can also grab some rewards points, which is one of the only ways to game that system.

Frankel and his team launched TASL, at first, in partnerships with high schools and colleges and then with businesses with fleets or safe-driving campaigns. The app launched in early 2020 and actually became more relevant during the pandemic, as people both became more addicted to technology and opted for the safety of driving over public transportation. Partially due to participation in an Atlanta technology incubator, TASL now has tens of thousands of users and a footprint in almost every country, Frankel said and he hopes it will be available for Android users later this year, as it’s only in the Apple App Store right now.

“We’ve been able to prove that the rewards, plus some lightweight gamification we’ve built in actually works in changing behavior,” Frankel explained, mentioning that TASL users’ distraction numbers usually improve, the longer they use the app.

TASL has a sleek, user-friendly interface and is a great tool for drivers young and old. Taking a look at the numbers after a series of drives is eye-opening - we have many distractions. But paring the distractions down is a fun challenge that TASL can pay off with a tasty reward.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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