Shari Biediger / Rivard Report
When Jose Luna told his wife Nancy he wanted to enter the Vision Zero Safest Driver Contest she asked him why, saying, “You’re the world’s worst driver.”
For three months, an app tracked Luna's speed, how many times he braked hard, and any distracted driving. At the end of the contest, that data showed that his driving habits were the best among more than 14,000 participants.
For that, the contest sponsors – Vision Zero SA, the City of San Antonio, and USAA – awarded him a $10,000 cash prize on Tuesday at an event attended by more than 100 other participants and winners in other categories of the first-ever safe driving contest.
Data showed that in the first weeks of the contest, participants’ driving behavior improved. As the weeks went by, some participants returned to their old ways, but the top scorers in the contest continued to demonstrate safer driving habits.
A total of 14,149 drivers signed up for the contest, more than half between the ages of 18 and 37, by downloading an app to their phones that monitored driving behavior. The app provided the City's Transportation and Capital Improvements department with useful data – 29 million miles’ worth – to help educate the public and plan future road improvements that will keep motorists and pedestrians safer.
City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), who led San Antonio to join the Vision Zero initiative in 2015, said she was startled by how many traffic fatalities occurred in her own district and neighborhood and began looking into Vision Zero for help in curbing preventable deaths on San Antonio roads.
So far this year, 100 motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists have been killed on San Antonio roadways, according to Art Reinhardt, assistant director of Transportation and Capital Improvements for the City. In the last five years, the average number of driving-related fatalities was 162.
“I’m very proud of us here in San Antonio for being one of the very first cities in the country to adopt the Vision Zero initiative, and our transportation department for taking this very seriously and making it one of their No. 1 goals,” Gonzales said. “In our 2017 bond, there’s about $450 million dedicated to complete streets – streets that are safer for people driving, cycling, for multi-use, and people using public transit and driving private automobiles. ... This contest shows San Antonio’s commitment to safety, its commitment to its residents in all parts of the city.”
The local Vision Zero initiative works to raise awareness about traffic deaths and advocates for more research and funding to support infrastructure that also protects pedestrians and cyclists. This summer, the City paired with USAA and Cambridge Mobile Telematics to launch the safe driving contest.
Throughout the three-month contest, which ended Sept. 3, participants competed for biweekly prizes of $500. The grand prize winners in three categories went to Luna for overall safest driver, Juan Jasso for safest military driver, and Sergio Balderas for least distracted driver. Each received a check for $10,000. Chris Green, a teacher at Rhodes Middle School, received $2,000 as the contest's sweepstakes winner.
Randy Termeer, senior vice president and auto general manager at USAA, congratulated the winners and presented the top scorers with service medallions.
“At USAA, driving safety has been a cornerstone for us since our beginnings,” Termeer said. “It’s a great honor to be part of an organization that has a voice in drunk driving, in vehicles themselves, and how we’ve changed with antilock brakes and safety devices, child restraints that have changed, and I just view this as the next step in our journey.”
An Army veteran who now works at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital, Luna said becoming San Antonio’s safest driver started with leaving his radar detector at home and learning to be a patient driver.
“I changed my way of thinking, my attitude,” he said. “And that was reflected in my behavior – not speeding, not reaching for the radio. ... It was a commitment to being a safer driver.”