Road Worrier Blog

May 9, 2014

Waze and similar apps give drivers real-time traffic intelligence

Drivers use their GPS smartphones, and apps that connect them with GPS data from other drivers, to watch out for jams and find the best way home.

On the way to work Friday morning, my smartphone alerted me to “roadkill” on Interstate 40 approximately 0.5 mile ahead of me – then counted down to 0.4 mile, 0.3 and so on, while offering me the option to click a “no longer there” button.

Without getting gruesome here, I’ll just say there was no need to click the button. The news was still fresh, having been posted earlier that morning by a fellow commuter who – like me – gets real-time traffic updates from a little app called Waze.

Waze is the most popular of several apps that work in a similar way. Another one is INRIX Traffic, using a datastream that also helps the state Department of Transportation produce its color-coded traffic maps, which show where the jams are.

I’ll be writing Monday about Waze and INRIX. I’d like to hear from users of these real-time traffic apps. Have they helped you get to work or home on time, or are they just another silly – or dangerous? – distraction? Please email me ( bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com) with your daytime phone number.

If you’re signed on, the GPS element in your smartphone broadcasts your location and your travel speed. Somewhere in the Internet cloud, a clever algorithm combines this data from Waze users with other traffic info and tells you how things are going, right now, on the road ahead. You’ll see smiley-faced car icons that represent actual Waze users, with their individual nicknames (mine is “Road_Worrier”).

And if you’ve entered your destination, Waze suggests one or more routes with their estimated travel times – which are updated along the way as traffic gets better or worse.

Along with small items like roadkill or a roadside police officer, reported by individual Wazers with the thumbing of an icon, you’ll learn where traffic is clogged and perhaps options for getting around it.

Every now and then, when rush hour grinds to a halt, Waze utters a squawk and advises you to take the next exit.

Sometimes this is good advice. Sometimes it is stupid.

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This blog is all about getting around in the Triangle. Bad drivers and traffic hassles. Gas taxes and transportation politics. Public transit and other auto alternatives. The blog is maintained by N&O transportation reporter Bruce Siceloff, whose Road Worrier column is published each Tuesday.

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