UConn DPT student Elle Stark.

UConn DPT student Elle Stark.

Laurie Devaney, clinical instructor in the Department of Kinesiology, was listening to NPR when she heard about a new app called JoyRyde, designed to give incentives for safe driving in an attempt to reduce injuries and deaths from distracted driving.

“I teach the spine component of the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program, and one of our modules is injury resulting from car accidents,” Devaney says. “Instead of just treating injuries, we are trying to get our physical therapists more involved in health, wellness and prevention of injury.”

“When I learned about this app, I challenged our students to take an active role in preventing injuries from car crashes. There’s a big movement toward using the term car crash instead of motor vehicle accident,  because people are doing things intentionally that put them at risk.”

The JoyRyde idea was the brainchild of Terry Goguen, CEO and founder of JoyRyde. The free app encourages people to take responsibility for their driving and for the safety of others. The app keeps track of miles driven without using a cell phone, drivers earning points redeemable at various fast food chains and e-commerce sites. The app promotes behavior change through rewards, with the goal of changing bad habits permanently.

By involving her students, Devaney hoped they might change their own behaviors and consequently encourage their patients to change as well. “As physical therapists we need to model healthy behaviors,” she says. “Distracted driving is a big public health problem.”

Devaney discussed the project with James Elliott, assistant professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, an internationally recognized expert on whiplash. He decided to have his students participate.

Shortly thereafter, the two decided to develop a collaborative project. The pilot program, the NUConn JoyRyde Challenge to Reduce Distracted Driving, a contest between the UConn and Northwestern PT programs. ran from March 3 through April 7. The program was so well received by students that Elliott and Devaney have decided to expand the program. In September 2017, they will launch a national program challenge and encourage all doctor of physical therapy programs in the country to take the challenge.

“I’m so very grateful to be working with Laurie and company on this meaningful project,” Elliott says. “It is widely known that injuries and deaths from distracted driving are preventable. In short, they are not accidents. The NUConn Challenge, led by Laurie Devaney and our very motivated, clever and inspiring DPT students at UConn and Northwestern, aims to increase awareness around prevention of such injuries and death on national and international scales.”


Making plans for the pilot at the APTA CSM in San Antonio, TX, February 2016.

“The results of our three-week pilot program resulted in our students and collaborators logging more than 17,000 miles of distraction-free driving, or the equivalent of three plus round trips between New York City and Los Angeles without engaging a smart phone,” Elliott explains. “Together, we can help everyone understand that any form of distracted driving is incompatible with safely operating a motor vehicle. We also wish to ask each and everyone, “What will it take for you to never again drive while distracted?” Please join our NUConn efforts to put an end to preventable injuries and deaths.”

“This is why I started the company,” says Goguen. “For people to be engaged with safety in a positive and interactive manner. The fact that two physical therapy programs competed was very apropos, as these graduate students are the people who have to deal with the repercussions of dangerous driving behavior. These students were not only competing, they were competing for an important cause. I look forward to seeing the competition grow to include all physical therapy programs across the country.”

JoyRyde has offered to donate $1,500 to split between the top three groups for donation to a charity of their choosing. “He’s doing everything he can to support us,” Devaney says of Goguen.

The group is currently seeking funding to promote the national project through social media, t-shirts and decals. They plan to work with the National DPT Student Assembly to recruit other programs and hope to present at the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) in 2018 to disseminate information.

“I’m really excited about this project and how our students have taken this on,” Devaney says. “They’ve been fantastic and have even gone a step further by creating a survey to assess people’s readiness to change and their beliefs that they can change their driving habits.”

The UConn team includes Maryclaire Capetta, physical therapist and assistant professor-in-residence, and a group of dedicated students including Jerry Zoubek, Michelle Stella, Timothy Kranz, Dylan Roman and Jessica Digiacomo.

“We’re looking at making this a part of the required service learning,” Devaney points out. “If this project continues at a national level, we will need students to manage and administer the program. It’s a pretty big venture.”

By Kim Colavito Markesich