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New App Lets Public Turn in Distracted Drivers for Texting

When a driver is texting, they are six times more likely to cause an accident than a driver under the influence of alcohol, according to the Institute for Highway Safety.

Jesse Day, CEO of Text To Ticket, is enrolled in the 500 Startups Accelerator in San Francisco. (Photo: Text to Ticket)

After narrowly escaping being hit by a distracted driver, Jesse Day and his friends wanted to reduce fatalities and injuries by tackling the issue of distracted driving with technology. The result is Text To Ticket, a new app recently released in California and Oregon that allows users to turn in people texting and driving to the police.

Similar to red light cameras, Text To Ticket uses videos to punish drivers who break minor traffic safety laws; however, this app uses crowdsourced video evidence–and rewards users with a $5 bounty.

In an interview with 21st Century State & Local, Text To Ticket CEO Day discusses the app and the challenge of distracted driving.

“Text to Ticket has been live since January 4, 2017, and we have grown 100 percent month over month. We have hundreds of users, including power users–those who submit 10-plus videos per day,” Day explained.

People who witness a texting driver use the app to capture a video of that driver in the act along with the license plate of the vehicle, and then submit it to law enforcement for review. Before the video is securely sent to law enforcement, Text To Ticket has three independent verifiers review the video to weed out improper submissions.

The independent verifiers are trained based on each state’s specific standards.

“Each state has different requirements for what is needed to properly enforce traffic violations. We train staff based on those requirements,” Day said. “This often includes working with the local law enforcement agency, court personnel and other staff from the city to ensure the most efficient practices are carried out.”

After the video is verified, the app encrypts the data recording the date, time, location, route traveled, and other information required to issue a ticket, and then uploads it to a server where it is digitally signed to avoid tampering and to preserve authenticity. Videos are then reviewed and approved by law enforcement, which has the final authority to issue the ticket. For every video approved by law enforcement, the submitting user receives a $5 bounty.

The image shows how the Text To Ticket process works for the user. (Image: Text To Ticket)

In order to pay out that bounty, Text To Ticket charges ticketing agencies for the service.

“Text To Ticket works with each municipality to negotiate a contract for our services. In some cases it is a flat monthly rate, in others it’s based on the number of submitted videos that result in citations,” Day said. “At this time we do not sell advertising within the application.”

The app allows viewers to film drivers using their cellphones for a $5 bounty. (Image: Text To Ticket)

Obviously, a key concern for both users and law enforcement agencies is road rage. Distracted drivers may become angry, and potentially violent, if they notice someone recording their behavior. However, Day strongly believes the app is unlikely to solicit such responses.

“In today’s world, you can call the police, Facebook them, email them, send them a tweet, and now even send them a video. We expect the same rate of pushback from the potential violators to be no more than the pushback received by people who use these similar methods of contacting the police,” Day cautioned. “Additionally, if a driver is busy texting, we think it’s unlikely that they will notice that they are being recorded for 10-15 seconds–this is the average duration of videos submitted.”

Since the app was created due to a close call with a distracted driver, Text To Ticket places a high premium on driver and passenger safety. It requires that users not be driving when they film videos. According to Day, users have to agree that they are not driving before recording each submission via a pop-up message in the app. “If we suspect the user is driving we send them a message and block them,” Day said.

Text To Ticket also protects a user’s security. The ticketed driver does not have access to the user who submitted the video, Day explained. All a driver knows is the officer who reviewed the video and issued the ticket. If the driver challenges the ticket, they will learn that the ticket was issued due to a video from the app, but still won’t have access to the user’s information.

Given how young the app is, it’s not surprising that the technology has yet to be challenged in court. However, with speeding and red light cameras becoming increasingly prevalent across the United States, there is precedent for video evidence being sufficient to issue tickets. Day also believes the law will be on the company’s side.

“The evidence supplied by the app has not been officially challenged in court; however, we have had people question the app and technology,” Day said. “Fortunately, the law is crystal clear on this. The U.S. Supreme Court describes driving as a regulated activity on public roads where there is no personal expectation of privacy.”

Kate DeNardi
About Kate DeNardi
Kate DeNardi is 21st Century State & Local's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs
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