Mobile phone apps help drivers navigate traffic

Posted March 8, 2010 4:10 p.m. EST
Updated March 8, 2010 6:56 p.m. EST

— Both drivers and law enforcement are getting high-tech help from mobile phone applications they use to avoid traffic troubles, from back-ups to speed traps.

Derrick Burr said that Waze, a free traffic app for an iPhone, has become his constant companion during his commute.

Waze tells Burr about delays and accidents reported by other drivers. He also uses GPS to confirm the existence of roads on the Waze map.

"It is like a game," Burr explained. "I'm gaining points for driving on this road because I'm the first who's driven on this road."

Tom Simon uses a similar traffic app.

"I've been using Trapster since they rolled out the first generation of it," he said.

Trapster alerts drivers to road hazards and safety delays – "everything from ice patches and road blocks to, believe it or not, road kill," Simon said.

Users of both apps can also report so-called "speed traps," giving drivers a chance to slow down before they get caught by law enforcement.

State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Gordon said he supports anything that gets drivers to slow down.

"If we can get people to be aware that they're approaching an area that there's a high visibility of troopers in that area, we take it as a plus," Gordon said.

Law enforcement in Austin, Texas, even uses Trapster to alert drivers about speed-enforcement areas, he said.

Gordon cautioned that drivers should be careful using apps on their mobile phones while driving. Trapster and Waze are classified as GPS programs, so they are exempt from the state ban on texting while driving.

"That is still going to distract your mind from what you should be doing. That's driving a motor vehicle on the highway," he said.

Simon said that, properly used, the live traffic alerts help him be better a driver.

"Something's out there, and I should slow down, and I should be more careful about it," he said.