Road Wars app turns safe driving into a game

This free app can help drivers (especially teens) improve their behind-the-wheel skills.

Road Wars for iOS brings gamification to safe driving.
Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Most motorists know by now that texting and driving can be more dangerous than drinking and driving. And teens, who'd just as soon text as talk, are among the drivers most likely to have a texting-related accident.

The new Road Wars for iOS aims to keep drivers safe by gamifying safe driving. The app monitors your driving behavior, rewards you for safe practices, and penalizes you for speeding, swerving, and, most of all, interacting with your phone.

Created with teens in mind (but suitable for anyone), Road Wars (which appears in the App Store as RoadWars) bills itself as a way to improve safe driving skills. As you drive, it taps the iPhone's GPS and accelerometer to determine your location, speed, breaking, acceleration, and swerving. You get real-time feedback if you go over the speed limit, accelerate too hard, pick up your phone, and so on.

For every 10 minutes of "safe" driving, you're awarded coins. And you can "capture" individual roads just by driving safely on them. If the app detects any bad habits, you get "punished" by losing coins. The whole idea is to train away distracted-driving behavior.

There's a social element as well: When you're not driving, you can see the roads your Facebook friends have captured and try to take them over via various skill/luck games (dice-rolling, etc.).

I took Road Wars for a spin earlier today and found its feedback interesting (turns out I'm a bit over the speed limit more often than I thought), and I liked capturing roads in my neighborhood -- even if it had no real-world meaning. (It's kind of like becoming "mayor" of various locations in Foursquare.)

That said, I'm not sure the gaming aspects are compelling enough for me to continue using the app. What's more, the app itself represents a distraction as you glance at the screen to see how you're faring.

Of course, once my daughter starts driving, I'm going to use every tool at my disposal to make sure she's as safe as possible. If this can help even a little, then it's money well spent. Thankfully, there's no need to spend any: Road Wars is free.