Ever since people have been driving, attempts have been made to get them to drive better, to limited success.

But what if you offered drivers big bucks for leaving their phones off, following speed limits, signaling when they’re about to turn and so forth, and paying the winner?

Last week, traffic-choked Los Angeles wrapped such a two-month “Safest Driver” competition, sponsored by USAA, a financial services company and part of a nationwide “Vision Zero” effort to reduce or eliminate crashes.

Deborra Sarei, a Downey, California resident, drove away with a check for $20,000 as the #1 safest driver.

The challenge was also accepted by 11,501 other contestants, meaning there were 11,501 fewer people wreaking avoidable highway havoc even though only one person could win the prize.

The company behind these competitions in major cities such as Boston, Seattle, San Antonio and others is Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT), a Softbank-funded startup founded by a team of MIT professors specializing in technology that makes the world’s roads safer using mobile sensing.

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