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My First App: Drive Safe, an app to stop you being distracted by your phone ringing while driving.

Why I wanted to do this project

Drive Safe was the first app I ever created. The actual idea came from my Mum.

She said too many people were being distracted by their phones while driving, and it would be great if I could create an app to prevent this.


I wanted to do it just for fun. and do something that was helpful to society and potentially prevent accidents and save lives.

My Role

UX Designer, App Creator


Native Android App


July 2015 - March 2019


As I said above, this was an idea given to me by my mum and I wanted to do it just for fun. Therefore I just started straight into it. I didn't do any research or look at competitors because it didn't matter to me as I was just doing it for myself, which might have been one of the reasons it became as popular as it did, as I spent hours on it every day for 2 years. 

As this was my first app, I had a lot to learn so I started out very basically. I just focused on getting the functionality working first, so I created a simple button in the app that would turn the phone on silent once pressed. Once I got this base part working I expanded. I then added in the ability to send an auto reply message to anyone who called or texted to say you were driving. This was the bare bones of the app, but soon after testing it in the real world, I found that enabling it manually was never going to work so I added in Auto Start, a feature that could automatically detect when you are driving and activate the Drive Safe App, putting your phone on silent and auto replying to calls and texts. This was a real turning point in the app.

I launched Drive Safe on the Play Store, October of 2015. It was slow to begin with but that was okay because it was still quite early stages for the app and needed a lot of work, but over time I refined and refined it, and by summer of 2016 it was working pretty well, with the Auto Start being the star feature of the app. The app just worked without you having to do anything, it was completely automatic and this is something people loved.
To my amazement, gratitude and excitement it started being downloaded all over the world. I was delighted to see people were happy using it and hopefully benefiting from it too from a safety aspect. 
Drive Safe was downloaded over 30,000 times globally and I was honoured to win two national awards for road safety in Ireland. 

The Problem

1. The Problem

The problem I had to solve was people driving being distracted by their phone ringing

with incoming calls, texts or other notifications.


The majority of drivers at the time did not have Bluetooth in their cars so

They they would just take phone calls by holding the phone while driving.

Initially, I did not do research or look at similar apps as I just wanted to do the app for fun, but later found statistics showing how dangerous texting and using the phone while driving, really were.

"The mobile phone is said to be the biggest distraction for drivers.

According to the Road Safety Authority of Ireland.

20% – 30% of car accidents in Ireland attributed to using the phone while driving."


Texting while driving statistics.

Driver Distraction - Mobile Phones & Driving Statistics. (Road Safety Authority Ireland)

2. Ideation & Initial Design

Based on the statistics, It was clear to me that I should create an app to prevent people from being distracted by incoming calls and texts as these were the biggest offenders.

Keep it simple

It was important to me to keep it simple so that anyone of any age or technical ability. one of my goals is

"It simply works!" this is true with Shazam, Spotify, Google Maps and Apple.

Initial App Design

I started out very basic with an app that could just put your phone on silent when you pressed the on button within the app. For this I just had to design a button that turned the app on and off. I wanted to think of something that could be universally recognised around the world that indicates something is on or off, or that you could go or stop.

I thought of the traffic light and how it could be a perfect fit for what I needed. 


Image of Traffic Light

I then enlisted the help of my genius mother (My Dad is also a genius!) to help design the buttons which I also used the on button as the apps logo.


Original Drive Safe Button & Logo Artwork

Initially the app wasn't even called Drive Safe! Like everything else I had to come up with a name, and some that I played with were "CarSafe" and "DriveClear" but Drive Safe was really the ultimate goal I was aiming for people to do! 

Screenshot 2021-07-01 at 17.36.51.png

Initial Designs of Button


Final Designs of On and Off Button


Drive Safe Logo


Initial App Design

Then I updated it, that when you received a call or text it would send an auto reply back to say you were driving and will contact them when possible.


Screenshots of the App

How I collaborated with others:


I did this project during college and once I had a MVP I showed it to my classmates and got them to test it. A lot of them didn’t drive so wasn’t much use to them, but I got everyone I met inside and outside of college to test it, so I could see how it worked for them and how I could improve it.

I was very lucky that my Dad had a coffee shop at the time, and most customers provided feedback. I even got some of the customers to bring me for a spin in their car to see how it worked for them. This was a major advantage, having access to so many potential users.

4. Solution


After using the app for a couple weeks I realised there was a major flaw in its usage. Every time you wanted to use it you had to remember to activate it, by opening the app and pressing the On button. I realized people would forget to activate it before driving. Even I couldn’t remember to switch it on before driving, so I couldn’t expect others to either!

To fix this, I created Auto Start, a feature that could automatically detect when you are driving and activate the app and then deactivate once you had stopped. This was a turning point in the app and the real pièce de résistance!

The problem I had to solve was people being distracted by their phone ringing

With incoming calls or texts.


After including the Auto Start feature, the app just simply worked. When you started driving it made a little sound to let you know it was active. 

How I choose the Auto Start sound

I wanted a sound that was distinct from all the other tones and sounds the phone makes like receiving a facebook message or whats app text and also I wanted a sound that was affirmative that something had been activated, which is how I ended up the sound below.

00:00 / 00:01

When the app was active you would not hear any calls or texts come in while you’re driving. People trying to contact you were sent a text message to say you were driving and would contact them when possible.

Once you had finished driving all your missed calls and texts where displayed on your lock screen like normal.

5. Challenges I faced, including designs concepts that were ultimately not pursued

There were a lot of issues I faced, here. is a list of some of them.

  • App switching on even when you’re not the driver.

  • Emergency mode.

  • Auto-reply getting stuck in an infinite loop.

  • App sending multiple auto-replies in receipt of one call.

  • App not being re-activated once the phone was restarted.

  • Displaying user permissions as soon as user opened the app.

  • Calibrating Auto Start.

  • The app being used in different languages.

  • Users not knowing if the app was active or not.

  • Finding the correct sounds for the app.

  • Different types of phones.

  • Restrictions by Android OS

  • Not available on iPhone.

  • Ads were a terrible idea and replaced them with premium features.

  • App Home screen Widget. This feature was a waste of time.

  • Auto turn data off when app is active.

  • Making the app more customizable.

  • Auto Bluetooth on.

  • Launching, managing and promoting the app.

  • 92 iterations released.

App switching on even when you’re not the driver.


The Auto Start was a great feature, but it introduced another problem. The app had no way of knowing if you were the driver or a passenger so it would automatically switch on in both cases. I was not able to come up with a great solution to combat this. The best I could do was the app made a chime when it started, and a passenger could turn off the app from the lock screen in two taps.



Emergency mode.

An issue that became prevalent quickly was that once the app activated when driving, it became impossible to contact the driver as they would not hear the phone. There needed to be a bypass in case of emergencies. I modified the app that if the user rang three times in a row, it would switch off the app. The phone would ring, along with an alert on the screen saying Potential urgent call!

Auto-reply getting stuck in an infinite loop.


Some phone networks would send a text to the owners phone to say that they had missed a call. In this case, the driver would receive an incoming call/text which they would miss. Then an auto-reply would be sent to the person calling to say they would contact them soon. The phone network would also send a text to the drivers phone to say they missed a call! This resulted in an auto-reply being sent back to the network. Then another text came from the network saying they did not understand the previous text and not to text them, which resulted in another auto reply being sent and creating an infinite loop!

This was a tricky one to fix, as I really had to delve deep into how phone numbers were made up and had to create a solution that would work across the world. After researching how numbers were structured and how the phone networks auto text system worked, I discovered that all automatic text systems used short numbers i.e 55205. Real phones started with a “+” i.e +353862239606. The “+” was the difference, so I modified the app to only reply to texts coming from numbers beginning with a “+”  and it worked!



App sending multiple auto-replies in receipt of one call.


This was also a tricky bug that took me a while to pinpoint. The app could send 20+ messages back in receipt of one phone. Thankfully, I found a loop in the code that was causing the issue and fixed it.



App not being re-activated once the phone was restarted.


An annoying kink I found in the UX of the app,  was if someone turned off their phone at the end of the day and restarted it the next morning, the Auto Start feature would be knocked out. I was able to find a feature within the android OS that allowed the Auto Start feature to be re-enabled again once the phone had been restarted.


Displaying user permissions as soon as user opened the app.


One bad judgement I made was to ask users for all permissions as soon as they opened the App for the first time. One of my friends pointed out that I should ask for the permissions when needed. This helped out a lot, as when people open an app and are greeted by a load of permissions they instinctively just decline them without realizing they were needed for the app to function properly in which case they would have accepted them. In my case, I had creator’s blindness where I used the app so much I just assumed people would read them and accept them!


Calibrating auto start.


I spent a lot of time driving around in the car to make sure the Auto Start was accurate as possible.



Users not knowing if the app was active or not.


I also spent a lot of time improving on how the app communicated whether it was active or not. I did it by making it chime once the Auto Start activated. The big button in the app would turn green to indicate active. A green Drive Safe logo icon also appeared in the status of the phone while the app was active along with a constant lock screen notification.


Different types of phones.


Different types of phones reacted differently to the app. Cheaper phones were more glitchy when it came to how the Auto Start, incoming call and text detection, and auto reply operated. I improved the stability by testing it on as many different devices as possible.



Restrictions by Android OS

With each new update released by Android, they introduced restrictions on what you could

do as a developer which directly impacted the app. I had to keep up with the latest release notes to keep the app working effectively.

Not available on iPhone.


Unfortunately, the main features of Drive Safe such as detecting driving, automatically putting your phone on silent and sending auto-replies were not possible at the time the app was live.

There was no app similar available to Drive Safe on the iPhone when I launched it on the Play Store but a year later Apple released their own standard feature “Do Not Disturb While Driving.”


App being used in different languages.


As the app became more popular it was used in more countries around the world. I wanted to translate the app and in particular the auto reply message so it was understandable in the countries it was being used in. Instead of paying expensive fees to translate the app, I came up with a clever idea to first translate the app using Google Translate then got someone who spoke the language to verify it. The whole process took 40 mins! 😊

Ads were a terrible idea and replaced them with premium features.


I included ads at the bottom of the app to try make money, but they made the app look terrible and did not generate a lot of money. After removing them I turned the app into a freemium model, where you had to pay $2 to unlock the Auto Start feature but decided to remove that too, as I didn’t want anyone to miss out on the best features of which could be potentially living saving.


In the end I just added a donation button.


App Home screen Widget. The feature was waste of time.


I added a widget to the home screen which allowed users to switch the app on and off the app directly from the home screen, but removed it when I added in Auto Start. The widget was a traffic light indicating the status of the app.

Turn mobile data off when the app is active 


I thought about the idea of disabling the mobile data when the user started driving so they would not receive notifications but found just enabling the phones Do not disturb mode was sufficient.


Making the app more customisable.


The more people who used the app the more suggestions they came up with. I tried to keep the app as focused as possible as I didn’t want the app to feel bloated, especially with features they might not use.

I constantly listened to users to make the app faster, more intuitive and autonomous as possible.


 Auto Bluetooth On.


A feature I did add which was convenient was that the app would switch on your phones bluetooth and connect you into the car automatically once you started driving. This was handy as I would often forget to turn on Bluetooth before I started driving, because I like to keep Bluetooth off when not in use to save battery and have one less antenna running.


Launching, managing and promoting the app.

Not only did I have to design the app and create it, but I also had to launch and promote it once it was launched. Instead of spending money on advertising, I thought of a frugal and effective to get it out there.



Keeping the app lean


My aim was to keep the app as lightweight as possible by not interfering too much with the phone or incoming calls or texts etc. I thought the fewer features I had and the less it interfered with the phone the less app would be hampered by future OS restrictions. One of the ways I did this was by using the system features as much as possible.

6. Outcome: How the project affected the users

I released the Drive Safe to the Playstore in October of 2015. Not much happened till around the end of December when the downloads suddenly started to climb! maybe it was Christmas that caused the spike.

I think one of the main reasons why Drive Safe became popular was because I always focused on making sure it simply worked. As people were downloading it they showed they were happy with as they left good reviews on the Playstore.

Some of the things that helped grow the popularity of Drive:

  • User recommending it to their friends.

  • Auto Reply SMS with link to download Drive Safe in the message.

  • Positive reviews on the playstore. (After using it for 1 week, The app prompted users to leave a Playstore review.)

  • Radio, Tv, Newspaper and online Blog Articles publicity. 


Interview with Westport FM Radio

Getting other people to wear T shirts, to promote Drive Safe. Unfortunately I was told they made good bed T shirts!

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 01.20.36.png

Mayo News newspaper Article quote

AA Car Insurance Ireland Blog Article

Drive Safe Mayo News.jpg

It helps when you know An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to help launch your app! 

(Prime minister Of Ireland)

After a few months I was amazed to see Drive Safe being used all over the world! 

I think great credit goes to the Google Playstore for making this so easy! 


Usage Statistic of Drive Safe. 2016 - 2019

What made me happiest was hearing that people were getting great benefit from it.

A lot of people locally told me of how happy they were with the app, as well as receiving emails and

reviews from around the world.

I was even nominated to for 2 national awards, which I was very honoured to receive!


Liz O'Donnell, Chair Person of RSA

(Road Safety Authority Ireland) 

Presenting me with the

Road Safety Leading Lights Award. 

My Mum, Mairead Irwin.

The inspiration behind it all! :)


I can't forget to include my Dad, who's always been an integral part of my success!

Retiring Drive Safe

In June of 2019 I decided to retire Drive Safe from the Playstore as I wanted to move onto other projects such as DapDap.

I was overjoyed while creating Drive Safe, it was one of the best experiences of my life, which I learned so much from and am grateful for. Thank you to all that helped me along the way.

Drive Safe still has a lot of potential in helping people so I would like to get back into it again, or Ideally find the right person to take it over. 

7. What I learned


This was my first app so I learned a huge amount!

Using the app myself was one of the biggest reasons why it became so effective and popular. People say You are not your user but it is important to have a vested interest in the app. I got a real idea of where the problems lay by using the app myself.

A balance of collaborating and watching how people use the app without showing them how to use it was a great way to see how easy it was to use. This uncovered more issues that I hadn’t noticed but being a user yourself also gives you a major advantage. Simply put, if you are not using your own app, why not?


Adding a contact me button was Great for feedback.

Adding a contact me button allowed to keep in touch with users who were using Drive Safe around the world. some of the users didn't even contact me in english!

92 iterations released.


I went through 92 iterations of the app that after releasing to the Play Store from October 2015 to March 2019. This shows that apps are constantly evolving with new user needs and fixing bugs and it takes to get it right.


Creating something that is truly useful and works well, will gain you a lot of word of mouth which is very powerful. As stated above, people love to recommend things that are genuinely good.


It’s like in my Dad’s old coffee shop, Christy’s Harvest, the apple pie sells itself!  

Lessons Learned

UX Designer, Full stack developer

My Startup: DapDap, an app to promote local events.

Frustrated on missing out on events I was interested in, as well as there was no app to show you what was going on in my hometown. I created DapDap to allow people to see what was going on locally and made it easy for anyone to post an event to the app for everyone to see!






Event Promoters

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