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Waze - Free navigation app with traffic and potential for unnecessary distraction

Consumer Reports News: May 11, 2012 10:08 AM

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The Waze app packs a lot of information in at an enticing price—free. It combines turn-by-turn navigation, traffic delay information (with causes and backup lengths), locations of radar traps, and the ability for users to socialize their location, mood, and on-the-road observations with other Wazeophiles. But that's the problem.

While turn-by-turn guidance and information about delays can save time and increase safety, Waze makes it all too easy for drivers to cross over to driver distraction—both literally and figuratively—by posting photos and looking for new friends, all while cruising along at highway speeds.

Yes, drivers do have the option of exercising restraint, and saving the more distracting elements of on-the-road socializing for times when they're safely at a stop. But given that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) attributed more than 3,000 deaths to distracted driving in 2010, why increase the danger and temptation by making such compelling features available while underway?

We found that if you steer clear of the extra features, the basic Waze menu provides a well-balanced diet of directional guidance and travel information. Just stay away from the all-you-can-eat buffet, which includes such things as sharing via Facebook and Twitter, pinging users to chat, and posting traffic jam photos. Waze locks out typing while in motion (unless the driver lies to the app and claims to be the passenger), but it does allow users to make various updates on the run by clicking icons on the screen.

Ultimately, Waze is best used by a co-pilot, who can assist with navigation and enjoy the myriad fun features safely in the passenger's seat.

What we like: Waze provided reliable turn-by-turn directions—including voice guidance—in our experience, with generally accurate estimates of travel time. The simple graphics are easy to decipher, though limited by screen size. In the greater New York City area, crowd-sourced traffic information was mostly accurate and current. But results may vary in less populated areas. Waze does accept limited voice commands, and some distracting functions can be turned off in settings. Because Waze is a free download, the price is right.

What we don't like: The ability to chat, post photos, and engage in other distracting behavior behind the wheel is dangerous. Encouraging users to be more involved in the Waze community by earning points for participation seems likely to make matters worse. Some font sizes are very small, making them hard to read on the road. We noticed a barrage of alerts whenever we stopped at traffic lights, many of which provided crash notification or other information on roadways nowhere near our route. Thankfully, those seemed to stop once we got moving.

What could be improved: Limiting access to some unnecessarily distracting functions—such as social media and en-route chatting—while underway would be a good idea.

Compatibility: Waze is a free download, and it is compatible with Android, Blackberry, and iPhone devices.

Jim Travers


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