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Mobile App, Start-Up Find Designated Drivers

Matt Sanford

Matt Sanford (Virginia Tech)

13 Dec. 2018. A group of current and former students at Virginia Tech designed a smartphone app and started an organization to connect designated drivers to party-goers to take them home safely. The organization and app, known as Drop A Pin or DAP, are now in use at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but its developers plan to make it more widely available.

DAP aims to correct potential problems for drivers with ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft that ask drivers to talk or text with waiting customers while on the way to pick-up locations. The DAP system instead interacts with the driver’s navigation system and handles queuing for customers. “The main goal,” says DAP developer and founder Matt Sanford in a Virginia Tech statement, “is to get drivers to focus on driving, not talking on the phone.”

Organizations, like fraternities and sororities subscribe to DAP for their events. Individual users — members of the subscribing groups — receive a code that connects them to volunteer designated drivers. The drivers make themselves available at certain dates and times, and the app provides users with the driver’s name, pick-up location, and vehicle size. Subscribing organizations also provide the drivers, thus the drivers are friends and acquaintances of the users, who pay nothing from their own pockets.

Sanford is a senior in computer science at Virginia Tech, who started DAP with 2015 accounting-finance graduate Greg Smith, now a CPA. They were members of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, and say they volunteered often as designated rivers to get their friends home safely after parties. From its first version, Sanford, Smith, and student colleagues redesigned the app and service, adding further enhancements and features, such as navigation within the app and ride history.

“We took a hard look at how quickly a person could get a ride,” Says Sanford, “and what steps we were having them do previously and what could be done more efficiently. We really wanted to focus on the user experience and make that a lot quicker. As far as the drivers’ portion, we did a lot of redesigning there to make it more distraction-free. There is a lot less physical interaction that has to go into the phone, which is really the main point of the app in general.”

DAP is a student-run not-for-profit organization at Virginia Tech, with 7 groups on campus as subscribers. The DAP app and service are endorsed by Virginia Tech’s campus health services, known as Hokie Wellness. Kelsey O’Hara, a health educator with Hokie Wellness, cites data showing 76 percent of people nationwide who drink always use a designated driver, and 91 percent of people who drink most of the time use a designated driver. “With designated driving in particular,” notes O’Hara, “a lot of times our education is centered around bystander intervention.” She adds, “So, never drive while drinking, don’t ride with someone who has been drinking, and step up if you see a situation occurring.”

To manage and expand the business, Sanford and Smith started the for-profit company Applied LLC to further develop the app and market it to other campuses.

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