When it comes to protecting teens behind the wheel, sometimes you’ve got to get into the mind of a teen for the solution. Case in point: SMARTwheel, a device invented by a 14 year old to help stem the tide of distracted driving. It’s a sad fact that teens suffer traffic fatalities at a rate that’s three times all other drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
CEO TJ Evarts is now 20 and he says he developed the SMARTwheel based on firsthand experience while watching his friends learn to drive.
‘I was in a unique position to see some of the dangerous behavior that happens behind the wheel of a young driver, especially related to technology,’ he says. ‘I thought, ‘There must be a solution out there [already].’ [But] all I found were reporting devices which are only effective after the fact. They tell you how fast you were going when you hit the tree, but they don’t actually prevent anything. So we set out to create the first proactive solution that lets drivers know in real time when they’re in a dangerous situation before an accident.’
How it works
The SMARTwheel looks like a regular steering wheel cover and installs like one too. But on the inside, the device has sensors to detect your hands. Research shows most distractions — like drinking coffee or checking your phone — require the driver to take one or both hands off the wheel. So if your hands are off the wheel for too long, the SMARTwheel alerts you in real time with lights and a tone to keep your eyes on the road.
Those distracted driving events are recorded for later review by a parent through a mobile app. The app assigns a safety grade and gives a breakdown of driving performance. It can also be used to track driving improvement over time.
The cost of SMARTwheel? $199.
Evarts was featured on Shark Tank and got an offer from Robert Herjavec who wanted to invest $100,000 in the company in exchange for a 30% share of ownership. But Evarts declined and now he’s struck out on his own.
‘I started this when I was 14. That’s about a third of my life,’ he says. ‘It’s also [been] a great learning experience. I’ve learned just as much through this experience as I did even in high school. And the people I’ve been able to meet have just been amazing.’