When Waco Fire Chief Bobby Tatum buckled up behind the wheel, he reached for his phone to send a quick text message.

“I was driving like 80 mph, and it all happened so fast,” Tatum said after driving off a virtual roadway during a demonstration organized by by Safe 2 Save focused on eliminating distracted driving. “From today on, I am going to make sure I place my phone somewhere in my vehicle where I can’t reach it or have an impulse to grab it.”

Preventive tool

Tatum joined health officials at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center on Thursday as Baylor Scott & White Health announced its partnership with makers of the Safe 2 Save app. Marci Corry, founder of Safe 2 Save, said the app launched in October 2016 and has expanded its reach from Bryan-College Station to Madisonville and Waco in hopes of using positive reinforcement to eliminate distracted driving in Texas.

The app now has more than 20,700 users, Corry said.

“I had been bad about texting and driving and I was talking with a college student and I was really encouraged to change habits to try to get people off their phones,” Corry said. “Then the idea just came to me, because I didn’t know why their wasn’t a positive rewards program after researching all the distracted drivers out there.”

During virtual driving demonstrations, hospital employees, public safety advocates and business partners drove on a virtual roadway while using their cellphones to send text messages. The simulations proved to be more difficult and have more of an effect than the drivers expected.

“The road was a little (curvy), but the second I looked down, there was no way I was going to be where I was before I looked down,” Blasian Asian manager Keith Sousa said. “As soon as I looked back up, I was off the road or running into someone very quickly, almost instantaneously, in fact.”

Sousa’s food truck is among the businesses partnering with the app to offer incentives for drivers to stay off their phones.

After downloading the free app, drivers can enable Safe 2 Save before they start their trip and earn points for the time they are not texting or reading content on the phone while driving. Points can be redeemed for discounts at participating businesses.

The local Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is participating, and owner Ronnie Baucom said he sees the importance of the app and is happy to offer various discounts to be redeemed for safe driving.

“Kids are so connected, and it’s just not worth their lives to text and drive,” Baucom said. “I am so excited to support the app, because even though my kids are grown, I tell high school kids that they need to get on this and earn some points and get some good rewards. A text message is just not worth it.”

Alarming numbers

In 2015, 105,783 crashes were attributed to distracted driving, according to Texas Department of Transportation. In McLennan County, there were a total of 951 distracted driving crashes, including 2 fatalities.

Safe 2 Save’s mission aligns with the hospital’s drive to save lives and see fewer people in hospitals and clinics.

“Car crashes continue to be the most common cause of death and injury, and at Baylor Scott & White we are always evaluating ways in which we can encourage drivers to eliminate becoming a distracted driver,” Baylor Scott & White Waco Region President Glenn Robinson said. “We strive to make Texas the safest state on the road, and it’s truly up to each of us to make that change.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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