SafeRides — the local teen-run ride-sharing service that gave free, confidential rides home — shut down last month.
But SafeRide — an app that automatically locks a driver’s phone, eliminating temptations, distractions and possible disaster — is about to take off nationally.
It’s moving from a soft launch to a full-scale roll-out. And it’s happening right here, in a Westport home office.
SafeRide is the brainchild of Scott Rownin. He’s an eclectic guy. His degrees are in engineering and economics; he plays drums; he’s worked as an accountant, management consultant, equity trader and wealth adviser. But until he addressed the problem of distracted driving, he hadn’t found his true passion.
It happened several years after he and his wife Lauren moved to Westport. (Their first visit came during a Sidewalk Sale. “It was like the movie ‘Funny Farm,'” Rownin recalls, “where the entire town was set up just to sell a house.” They’re still in their “temporary” home, and love everything about the community.)
A few years ago, Walmart ran a “Get on the Shelves” promotion. The megastore was looking for new products, from anyone.
Rownin had an idea: create a device to stop drivers from texting.
He hired a design firm, and began researching what’s legal and what’s not. Within 2 weeks, he had the beginnings of a device.
Since then, it’s evolved. There are a number of products already on the market. But they’re hardware-based.
SafeRide relies almost entirely on software. It uses Bluetooth as a beacon. Rownin says around 90% of cars now include Bluetooth. And those that don’t almost always have another device that does — say, GPS or a Bluetooth charger.
Recognizing any Bluetooth device, SafeRide locks the driver’s phone while the car is in motion. All phone calls and email sounds are turned off. Navigation and music apps are still available. And drivers can use a hands-free system (in-dash or headset) while the phone remains locked.
In an emergency, calls can still be made to a local responder.
Users can also set up customized auto-text replies, letting anyone who calls or texts know that the message will be responded to soon.
There is an on/off mode, so passengers can use their phones. Rownin is working on an “intelligent” aspect, where the app recognizes if a user is not in his or her own vehicle (and thus is, presumably, a passenger).
“If I were a teenager, I know I’d try to get around it,” he acknowledges. He’s worked to make SafeRide “teen-proof.” It reports misuse to a server — and parents can generate alerts and reports that show exactly when “passenger mode” was enabled.
(Of course, as anyone who ventures out on Westport roads knows, the problem of distracted driving is hardly limited to teenagers.)
Rownin has relished every moment of this project. From product design and patent research to capitalization and marketing, he’s been driven by “making the world a safer place.”
His wife has been his biggest booster. “Every 6 months we have a heart-to-heart about this,” he says. “Lauren always pushes me forward.”
She’s also a “fantastic saleswoman,” and joined the team. “She’s killing it!” he says proudly.
SafeRide had a soft launch in March. Now publicity is ramping up.
Rownin hopes to keep the app free for parents. He foresees revenue coming from trucking companies and other organizations that employ large numbers of drivers, along with insurance companies that would license it, then provide it to their customers.
Further in the future, he says, SafeRide might come installed in every car that is sold.
It would be one more life-saving device no one even thinks about. Just like seat belts. Air bags. Or brakes.
(For more information on SafeRide, click here.)