HELENA — Capital High senior Jesse Hruska noticed many people his age are prone to distracted driving. That gave him the idea to create an app, to help them brush up on the safety rules of the road.
“I didn’t want to make just a regular sort of driver safety teaching application, because those are usually kind of boring,” he said.
What he eventually came up with was “An Evening Drive.” His work paid off, as he became Montana’s winner of this year’s Congressional App Challenge.
The app is story-based, with a dozen scenes each illustrating a safety concept. The user has to decide what to do. If they choose right, the drive goes smoothly. If not, they could get into a crash – and then get a lesson on what they should have done.
“It’s more interactive, and I hope that it’s more interesting and more engaging for students to learn about driver safety,” Jesse said.
This year, Jesse was one of four students in Jamie Toivonen’s computer science class to enter the Congressional App Challenge, an annual student competition sponsored by U.S. House members.
“What’s amazing to see with a lot of these students that are taking computer science now is you teach them the basics, and they’ll kind of run with it,” said Toivonen.
She says she was impressed by all of the students’ work.
“Just seeing what they could come up with, their ideas – and all of the ideas that these students came up with will help somebody in some way,” she said.
Jesse says he probably put 45 hours of work into his app, at school and at home. Besides programming it, he also did all the art, the research and the writing.
His effort showed. U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale selected “An Evening Drive” as this year’s winner for Montana.
“Every day, people are distracted by their phones or tablets when driving,” Rosendale said in a statement. “Over one million car accidents occur annually worldwide due to drivers’ usage of a cell phone. Jesse Hruska’s app is a fun interactive tool to teach people the importance of driving safely, and it also serves as a stark reminder that distraction-free driving not only affects your life, but also the lives of those around you. Congratulations to Jesse on winning the 2022 Congressional App Challenge. His hard work will cause people to think twice before choosing to be distracted on the road.”
Jesse only found out a few days ago, when the winners were officially announced.
“I was like, ‘Oh, well, I probably didn’t win if I haven’t gotten any other emails about this,’” he said. “I just went through their link and scrolled down to Montana and I saw that my app was there, and I was just like, ‘What’s going on?’”
His app works on both phones and computers. He hopes it might eventually be used in driver safety courses, and he hopes other students will give programming a try.
“I’ve always been interested in computer stuff, but I’ve just been too apprehensive to try it out until last year,” he said. “So I would definitely suggest: get into it, try it out, see if it’s for you. It’s a very cool field.”
If you’d like to try out Jesse’s app for yourself, it is available here.
This is the second time a Capital student has won the Congressional App Challenge for Montana. In 2018, Kyler Nelson and Andrew Stroop won with the app GCodeHelper, to help machinists in training learn how to program computer-controlled equipment.