Apptitude: Tap these apps for road info, but cautiously, please

A pair of apps can help drivers. In 2010, they were on their own during work at Kelly Drive and Ridge Avenue.
A pair of apps can help drivers. In 2010, they were on their own during work at Kelly Drive and Ridge Avenue. (MICHAEL BRYANT / File Photograph)
Posted: April 19, 2013

Let's start with a warning: Legalities aside, running any smartphone application while you drive can be a dangerous distraction. But judicious use of those babies that crowdsource traffic information from millions of users will ease your way down the road.

The app called Waze describes itself as "social GPS maps and traffic." Using it reminds me of CB-radio days. On a 3D map, you can see other Waze users moving along nearby roads with you, depicted as smiling pink blobs. Ten-four, good buddies.

It's free for multiple platforms from Waze Inc. With your approval, Waze will let other users know where you are, thus heightening the sense of it as a community.

"Wazers" share road alerts and other traffic info. With the app on, Waze collects some information about your route and speed. You add to the data pool by tapping when there's a traffic jam or other issue. Use the same reporting screen to relay a problem with the onboard map, or to report gasoline prices or highway conditions.

For safety's sake, voice-command features can be set to activate with a few taps on the screen.

Trapster, by Reach Unlimited Corp., is free and comes in versions for most devices. With Trapster fired up while you're in the car, you can get audible or vibration alerts to approaching construction zones, speed traps, red-light cameras, dead animals, and so forth.

Registered users report the road hazards, accidents, or children at play by tapping an alert icon, then tapping a second icon identifying the event or obstacle. Trapster users in your wake will be alerted based on your reports and those of other users.

Results may be spotty. For example, an alert to a roadside police stop just ahead on I-95 was spot-on, but Trapster insisted there was a red-light camera at 12th and Filbert Streets in Center City. I didn't see one, and a uniformed officer on the corner there confirmed my observation.

Set the app to deliver warnings in various languages or choose from a variety of English speakers, such as "Bubba," a "Southern Bell" (yes, it's misspelled), or "Mr. Grumpy," who sounded to me a bit like New Jersey Gov. Christie. Any of those hosts will tell you when you're approaching a school zone or dangerous intersection.

The real-time map can be configured to show gas stations, ATMs, and coffee shops, among a host of options. You can also play your stored music from within the app.


Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114, rkanaley@phillynews.com, or @ReidKan on Twitter.

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