Traffic apps: Your roadmap to a smooth commute

Every seasoned commuter stuck in traffic always has the same question: Stay the course or stray off the beaten path? In years past, we were glued to radio traffic reports that screeched out irrelevant updates every 15 minutes, finding ourselves glued to the radio without any real exit strategy.

Now our beloved smartphone-turned-traffic copter gives us real time updates whenever we want. Apps like Google maps and Waze provide alternate routes, road conditions and even police activity.

The list of traffic apps keeps growing and while the most popular apps are Google Maps, Waze and NRIX, they don’t all work the same way. Some rely on real-time data through crowdsourcing, while others use GPS coordinates, historic traffic information and cell signals.

Google Maps, which displays real-time traffic flow with red, yellow and green lines, also draws data from the GPS coordinates of Android phone users who have opted to anonymously share their locations. Data is gathered from cell phone signals inside of cars and sensors from the Department of Transportation. This information, called “probe data” is then compiled and displayed on your phone.

Waze, on the other hand uses crowdsourcing to learn from users’ driving times to provide routing and real-time traffic updates. But what’s unique about the app is its social layer: Waze’s active community of users share real-time traffic and road information. That means it gives you a heads-up about reported obstacles on your route (e.g. road closures, accidents, police traps), and can then redirect you to your destination.

Best App for Avoiding Traffic: Waze

This app has the extra bonus of real time crowd-sourced notifications like police reported, object in road, and accidents ahead. It also tells you how long you will be sitting in traffic.

Best App for Offline Use: CoPilot

Download it once and you can always get turn-by-turn directions, and it even logs your speed and gives you a warning when you’re getting close to the speed limit.


Best App for Back Country: Komoot

This nav app covers an expansive range of US bike paths and mountain trails. It includes a topo map for biking and hiking trails near you and it also offers suggested routes to boot!

Safety First

Driving and napping or driving and app-ing? Don’t do it. Let the passengers on the road provide the updates. When in doubt, put the phone down.

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