CrashDetech: The app that could save your life in a car crash

Story highlights

  • CrashDetech auto detects road accidents
  • The app calls an agent who locates the nearest ambulance
  • Aims to reduce waiting times and save lives

(CNN)It's the killer that, by some measures, takes more young lives each year than conflict or some forms of cancer.

Every 30 seconds a person is killed in a road crash, according to figures from the Global Road Safety Partnership. That's more than 3,400 people per day and 1.25 million people per year.
    Perhaps even more arresting is World Health Organization (WHO) analysis which says that 90% of all road based fatalities occur in low to middle income countries, despite such nations having only half of the world's vehicles.
    It's a tragedy that even takes a toll on development costing some nations up to 5% of GDP, according to the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP).
    The problem is so pressing that the U.N. declared the years between 2011 and 2020 as the "Decade of Action for Road Safety," with over 100 countries pledging to reduce killer car accidents.
    Some of the highest rates of road deaths can be found in Africa. According to the WHO's 2015 Global Status on Road safety report, Libya is at the top of the table (73 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by Thailand (36) and Malawi (35).

    Automatic detection

    Yet one South African company has designed a system that it believes can help cut Africa's dismal rate of road fatalities.
    CrashDetech is a smartphone application designed by Johannesburg- based entrepreneur Jaco Gerrits. It operates while a user is driving and detects the sudden motion and G-forces of a car crash.
    Founder Jaco Gerrits
    The app then pinpoints the location of the accident and automatically calls an emergency response center, which will dispatch the nearest medical emergency team.
    CrashDetechs also sends personal medical information, such as allergies and blood type, to enable doctors and paramedics to offer more effective treatment. The aim is to reduce waiting times, and in doing so, save lives.

    Race against time

    In South Africa, the WHO estimate that roughly 38 people are killed in road accidents each day.
    "It's a major global public health problem," Gerrits told CNN. "They [the WHO] have identified that how quickly you respond to a crash and how effectively obviously can make a massive difference."
    "Let's say in a rural area you're involved in a crash and you're off the road. There's a good chance that nobody might even notice the crash. You can't speak for yourself, and those patients will probably never get the right kind of treatment to them in time."
    According to Dr Pieter Venter of the Global Road Safety partnership, mobile technology start-up's like CrashDetech have exciting potential.
    "A number of providers of such services have launched both here in South Africa and right around the world, and there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence which supports the position that this technology can play a key role in helping to save lives," Venter said.
    But Venter also states that changing attitudes to the wearing of seatbelts and highlighting the dangers of drink-driving are also important factors in reducing road fatalities in the likes of South Africa.
    One of the app's key advantages is it has grouped together 113 different private emergency medical providers in South Africa, meaning its customers have a greater chance of accessing an ambulance that's near.
    "You might be familiar with one specific [ambulance] number, for example ER24, [but] there's a good chance they're half an hour away. Whereas let's say Netcare 911 might be 5 minutes away," Gerrits continued
    "If you've got medical aid [insurance], it normally has a relationship with one of the private companies. They'll typically try and dispatch the company's resources that they have a relationship with," said Gerrits.

    The business

    Launched six months ago, the app already has 3,000 subscribers.
    However thanks to an "aggressive" distribution plan, Gerrits says CrashDetech is now bringing in 7,000 customers a month. "We've recently concluded a licensing agreement which will see 500,000 subscribers being on-boarded over the next year," said the entrepreneur.
    The start-up has also teamed up with Mobilium, a provider of specialized apps for the health sector, to license its technology to existing health applications and insurance providers.
    Business to business sales are as important as those to individual consumers. For example, the app is being marketed to large firms as an employee benefit. As its technology monitors and logs every car journey, it's also a useful tool for submitting work expenses and tax claims.
    Though the firm hasn't yet handled any crashes -- Gerrits says most subscribers only joined in the last two months -- it has responded effectively to an emergency medical situation, for which the app has a special button.
    "Sadly, it's a numbers game. If we have this discussion in six months, it will be a different story."
    CrashDetech outsources to external medical, security and legal specialists.

    How he did it

    After fourteen years working in business, Gerrits developed the app's technology using capital from previous ventures -- past successes include Thembela, an online recruitment and procurement platform.
    Yet his goal of six month's research and development time took much longer than expected, with six months turning into 18.
    "If you brake harshly or drop your phone, we don't want to be sending ambulances left right and center," said Gerrits. "So technically, that was quite a challenge to eliminate."
    From its sales force to call center agents, Gerrits has found outsourcing to be the best way of guaranteeing service levels and reducing risk -- CrashDetech only has two full time staff.

    Future

    The tech entrepreneur says he is in discussions with potential partners in Zambia, Uganda, Guatemala and Australia, and also hopes to take it to the U.S..
    Before that, however, Gerrits plans to launch an additional service closer to home -- a new subscription plan that will cater to the vast majority of South Africans who have no medical insurance.
    "The sad reality is that only 17.5% of our market has access to medical aid," said Gerrits.
    "Cost is a major issue. We're looking now at a low cost medical aid cover, which will give you guaranteed hospital admission and also accidental death and disability cover at a much lower price point."
    If he can achieve that, CrashDetech could be on its way to saving thousands of lives.