I spend a lot of time in my car. Too much, really.
Now that spring is officially here, it means that summer—a.k.a. Traffic Season—is just around the corner. All the annual driving debates will soon begin anew. When is the best time to leave the city on a Friday? Do I stay on the L.I.E. or head over to Sunrise? What was Robert Moses smoking when he thought of this plan? The choices can be maddening.
Here’s the good news. I’ve recently started using a social driving App called Waze that might have some answers to these dilemmas. Here’s more:
What It Is
Waze has actually been around for a while. The company raised eyebrows in 2010 when it raised $25 million series B funding—a staggering amount—on top of an initial venture round in 2008. That’s enough dough to pay for lot of speeding tickets.
Why did the VCs jump in? Waze combines real-time GPS, turn-by-turn navigation, live traffic conditions and a large social community. The App makes it fun for users to post and access up-to-the-moment information about driving conditions such as traffic reports, accident alerts, weather, and more.
And it’s free.
The Fast Lane: What I Like
For a free GPS App, Waze delivers a crisp, accurate view of your planned route. Much has been written (some of it by me) about Apple’s crappy map App. It has huge blind spots in data and consistently fails to deliver accurate location and route info. Waze is light years ahead of the Apple Map in this regard.
Roads and exits are clearly marked and can be viewed in 2D or 3D for exceptional detail. The system displays traffic conditions, delays and hazards in real time—along with actual speeds for the particular stretch of road. This blows away most other map Apps, which only blink red, yellow or green without providing specific detail. Waze also updates frequently, another strong feature for planning your route and avoiding trouble spots.
Waze doesn’t stop there. The App also delivers live social postings by other users in your immediate area. As of last fall there were over 30 million registered Waze users, so unless you’re driving through Kansas or Montana, you’re likely to see lots of road reports. As you watch the map, little icons appear along the road. Tapping an icon reveals a descriptive post from a user with more details about the traffic situation. Potholes, accidents, lane closures, even speed trap locations are right there in front of you. Very useful indeed.
Another cool feature: Waze tells you where to find nearby restaurants, gas stations, motels, restrooms and other interest points—with the added value of user reviews and tips.
Waze even displays icons showing other users nearby, complete with different graphics to let others know your mood. If you’re completely bored you can actually tap the icon to send a “beep” message to the person just ahead of you in the right lane. Then again, maybe you don’t want to meet that driver, but it’s pretty cool to see fellow travelers in real time.
Road Rage: What Needs Improvement
The main drawback to Waze is simple, but it’s a big one: how are you supposed to check your phone and enter updates while driving? Waze warns that this behavior is illegal and dangerous—which it is. But if you’re driving alone, it’s very hard to get the most out of the App when you can’t pay close attention to it.
Here’s a cool workaround: I hand the phone to my kids and make them our honorary navigators. They love posting, reading the alerts, and playing a real role in our drive. It’s a great diversion from DVDs and typical car entertainment.
Finish Line: The Rating
Despite its one big flaw, I give Waze a green light. It’s especially fun with a co-pilot to maximize the flow of information.
What’s your favorite travel or traffic App when heading out to the East End? Tell us at DansHamptons.com.