Startup of the Month: Text to Ticket

With traffic safety app, citizens earn cash targeting distracted drivers

Back Web Only Apr 5, 2017 By Russell Nichols

If you’re texting and driving, Sarah Morell might be recording you. She’s usually riding shotgun, as her husband drives, with her camera phone, ready to catch traffic safety violators on video. Her 6-year-old daughter’s in on the action too.

“Oh, Mommy look!” she’ll say from the backseat. “They’re texting and driving, that’s not good.”

Morell, who lives in Sacramento and spots most culprits on the freeways, will record the license plate and face of the distracted driver. Then she submits the footage through a new app called Text to Ticket. If you’re guilty, you could end up getting a citation in the mail.

“I hate when people text and drive,” Morell says. “The app sounded like an interesting idea and a good cause, so I downloaded it right away.”

Based in Sacramento, Text to Ticket launched in January with the goal to make the roads safer by urging people not to text and drive. Similar to mystery shoppers, the app turns users into citizen watchdogs who get paid to watch for and report violators. It was developed by a group of friends after a distracted driver almost hit them on their way to a San Francisco Giants game.

“We were going to a game, crossing the Embarcadero with a walk signal,” recalls co-founder and CEO Jesse Day, who has a public health background. “Then this driver, too busy looking at the phone, almost ran all of us over.”

No one was hurt. But not everyone is so lucky. In 2014, about 3,200 people were killed, and 431,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to These are drivers who text, check emails or social media accounts, paying attention to their phones and not the roads. More and more people using smartphones means these roads can potentially grow even more dangerous. Day and his friends decided to do something about that.

Most people, Day says, admit that texting and driving is dangerous, but still do it, thinking they won’t get caught. What are the chances that a police officer would happen to drive by and pull them over? That’s the mentality, says Steve Nguyen, a co-founder with a background a government technology. The team created Text to Ticket to deter people with the idea that they can get ticketed without getting pulled over.

“Somebody can report you,” Nguyen says. “Hopefully, that makes you think twice.”

Users must record the license plate and driver in a single video stream not breaking away from the vehicle. The app tracks the date, time, location and route traveled, then encrypts the data and sends it to secured servers, where they are automatically digitally signed. After reviewing the videos, agents forward them to local law enforcement for approval.

Right now, users can only record one violation per video. (A future release may allow multiple violators in one video.) For every submitted video that gets approved, the user receives $5. To this point, there have been 400 approved video submissions for a total payout of about $2,000.  (Morell has made about $100 herself so far.)

Funding for this startup has come from family and friends. Also, the Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups accepted Text to Ticket into its accelerator program, investing $150,000 in exchange for 6 percent equity. In March, the startup made it to the final four of the Sacramento Kings Capitalize business competition. Text to Ticket has currently raised $450,000 of its $1.5 million goal.

To generate revenue, Text To Ticket adopted the same model often used by red-light cameras. They enter into partnerships with municipalities as a service provider. Municipalities pay the company a portion of each ticket amount or a flat monthly rate, Day says.

Overall, the startup wants to deter distracted drivers the same way the “Click It or Ticket” campaigns 20 years ago urged people to buckle up. But Text to Ticket does have its skeptics. Is this legal? Is this an invasion of privacy? Many users ask these questions.

Cyrus Zal, a solo practitioner in Folsom, has been an attorney since 1982. He has no direct involvement with the business of Text to Ticket, but the startup team occasionally consults him for legal advice. “In your own home, you expect to have privacy,” Zal says. “If you’re driving on public roads, you have no expectation of privacy.”

For this reason, Zal says, it is completely legal for users to videotape anybody they see driving and texting in a public setting on a public road. Free of those concerns, Nguyen hopes users see Text to Ticket as a tool that can save lives.

“For a lot of people, their initial feeling is, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this,’” Nguyen says. “But if you see somebody driving drunk, I would hope you would call the police. It’s our responsibility to protect ourselves and the people around us by letting them know this is not acceptable.”

Do you know an entrepreneur who has what it takes? Recommend their company for our “Startup of the Month” here. 


Stephen (not verified)April 10, 2017 - 1:00pm

The problem with most photo "enforcement" scams is that they are NOT about "safety". Safety is pulling over a driver. Not mailing a bill to the owner weeks later to benefit a private company.

Next, the paying of a "bounty" to other motorists is a moral peril in that some might be tempted to prowl parking lots or vehicles stopped and parked to churn tickets (a similar one has been exposed China on another photo "bounty" scam. ).

Than you have CA law which outlaws even touching the cell phone in a car, by paying other motorists to take a picture, NOT only at snitches breaking the law, but also distracted driving to boot.

Than you have the issue of did CA law ever approve this?? If not and it is a private company without approval, than it would be like the fake RLC tickets that news station warn people against "paying" as those were FRAUDULENT. Not only would the company be in a RICO situation, but also any paid to snitch.

Only a law officer who pulls someone over is really enforcing the law. This is more a money making scam that has real moral peril and even safety ones just do to the distracted driving by the snitch.

We all agree you should NOT text and drive. But do you know if maybe the "accused" was calling 911 (by dialing it in)?????

And what about the creep affect, do you want a world of people taking cell phone pictures to send them on any petty violations (and not necessarily by driving) like "littering' because the trash you put in a can fell out??? Some vendors have even used a version of this to cite on lawn violations too.

Best to say no and let REAL police officers, not a private company who is really more interested in dollar signs.

Policing for profit is NEVER long term about "safety", but money.
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