Quick confession: I am somewhat of a leadfoot. Nothing reckless, mind you: I’m typically a 5-10 mph over the limit guy. But that said, you can’t be too careful. As a long-time user of peer-to-peer traffic app Waze (at least seven or eight years), I just came back from a road trip, and am a little disappointed in what has become of it. But first, a little background.
Peer-to-peer police spotting was actually a thing all the way back in the ’70, in the form of CB radios, popularized by Burt Reynolds in his 1977 magnum opus Smokey and the Bandit. My dad drove a lot of miles when I was little, and I can remember him receiving (and contributing) many a “Smokey Report” on channel 19. Sometimes he’d even let me pick up the mic and make the report myself (I’m everyone was confused by a 9-year old filing a Smokey Report).
At some point, the CB radio fad died out, and it became mostly a means for truck drivers to solicit prostitutes and drugs. I remember my Dad going through a series of radar detectors, from cheap boxy Fuzzbusters to more sophisticated units like the Cincinnati Microwave Escort. I carried on this tradition, and above is a picture of my setup from the early ’90s (a Valentine One radar/laser detector).
I first discovered Waze around 2012, and have been a dedicated Wazer ever since. When it first launched, everything was great. Many of the users were professional drivers and understood the nuances of the program: For example, the difference between posting a sighting on the same side of the road (which alerts people behind you), versus one on the opposite side of the road (which alerts people coming in the opposite direction).
Unfortunately, as word spread, the signal to noise ratio of Waze has steadily declined. Take a look at the screenshot above, from the same trip. Do we really need four different people reporting the same hazard? This happens all too frequently now: Four or five people reporting the same thing. This makes it hard to use the “Not There” function when Buford T. Justice has moved on, as you can only do it for a single report at a time. In the above example, it would require four different people reporting “Not There” for the hazard alert to completely disappear.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we can blame all the issues with Waze on newbie users. I suspect Police are getting wise to Waze, and as a consequence are moving around a lot more, only staying fixed for a few minutes at a time. I suspect this is what is happening in the screenshot above, which multiple sightings within a mile or so of each other. And just like the police monitored CB channel 19 back in the day, they might even be on Waze today, creating phantom alerts.
Problems aside, I will still continue to use Waze. Even though it has become somewhat less useful, it is still useful. No better alternatives have come up, at least to my knowledge.
So what think you, fellow readers? What has your experience been with Waze? Is there an organized plot to bring it down, or is it just collapsing under the weight of its userbase? Is there anything better I should be using? Anyone with any cop friends that can clue me in?
I still use it extensively, and though I agree there are often nuisance alerts, i haven’t noticed any change in the last 5 years or so I’ve been using it.
I use a lot of the suggestions that I have read about in Car and Driver about 25 years ago and have had no speeding tickets in over 40 years.
– Avoid flashy cars. Boring coloured 4 doors are your best bet.
– Leave the loud exhausts for the high school kids.
– Stay out of the fast lane unless passing.
– Don’t constantly switch lanes. That will attract the cops.
– Drive ( during the day obviously) with your lights on for 20 minutes and then off for 20 minutes. Repeat.
– Look far ahead for brake lights.
– Constantly monitor your mirrors.
Good safe driving tips in general. What is the purpose of toggling the headlights every 20 minutes?
especially in the era of DRLs when you may not even notice the difference
Their reasoning around the headlight toggling was that if the cops thought that you were travelling fast, but not fast enough for a ticket, they might post a description of your car over the police radio. The cops further up the highway would be watching for a car with headlights on. Meanwhile, you would have turned them off already and go on your way. Probably worked better before DRL’s. Thankfully I still own lots of junk without them.
I’ve found that on the rural portion of interstates in Pennsylvania, most passenger cars and light trucks are already cruising at 75-80 mph. Simply going with the flow of traffic is sufficient to avoid tickets.
I agree with everything besides the first two (though I also don’t understand the headlight one). I’ve only received one ticket in 15 years of driving and I think my out of state “FIP” plate was the primary reason I got it, as I was going with the flow. At highway speeds a noisy exhaust is basically white noise and if all cops ever did was go after red coupes and ignore beige and silver sedans, they’d never fill their quotas.
I believe that back in the 1990s Car and Driver did some tests where they wanted to see what would affect the effectiveness of police radar.
They found that having your headlights on would decrease the effectiveness of police radar to clock your speed. The caveat was that the more flat and upright the front of your car the better the headlights worked to stymie the smokies.
Our cars are likely too aerodynamic to make that effective.
I remember reading that troopers are trained to aim their radar guns at the front license plate. For that reason I stopped putting an old license plate on the front of my vehicle for nostalgic purposes. (It was also a de facto IQ test on ticket writers: more than once did I get a parking ticket from the front plate, which I just ignored.) I also read that most headlights are near perfect parabolic reflectors for radar beams, but can’t do much about that. I stopped putting a front plate on my cars in the late 1990s.
I can’t contest that turning headlights on and off will affect a radar gun. I’ve never heard that.
The last radar detector I had was stolen out of my vehicle in 1999. I don’t miss it because if anything it was a false sense of security, and with the advent of ‘instant on’ technology, plus additional bands (X, K, Ka, then laser light) made most detectors obsolete anyway. Road awareness is I think the best way.
From the time I got my license at 16 until I passed 50, I don’t think I ever went 3 years without at least one speeding ticket on my license(s). I had 8 of them in a 4 year period (all of them were on the interstate during the mid 1980s) and probably kept my license because they were in 8 different states. I’ve learned a lot just by watching traffic flow and noting police tactics (like using bridge pilings as blinders, and looking at the overhead bridges for cars that aren’t moving). I still put about 6K miles/yr on the interstates, mostly in the left lane, but currently in my longest interval without a speeding ticket (nearing 8 years), but I’ve lost count of the number of times the person ahead of me got busted by a Smokey lying in wait. Luck does play a role. If it doesn’t feel right, slow down, and watch the taillights in front to see if anyone is braking for no discernible reason.
I don’t use Waze that much because it will drain the battery on my iPhone even when it’s plugged into a charger. I find it hit or miss if there’s a cop by the road. I use it only on highways. I do like the crowdsourcing idea akin to the old CB radio craze.
I still have my step-dad’s CB radio. He took it out of his 1975 Cordoba around 1980 before trading it for a 1978 Coupe de Ville and left it after the divorce later on. Have no idea if it works, but it’s a memento.
Radar and laser detectors are useless now because of all the laser and radar emitters on cars for lane compliance, adaptive cruise control and emergency braking. They set your detector off constantly despite all the filter settings being engaged. I sold my last detector on eBay over a year ago and just use Waze and common sense now. The higher end vehicles were setting it off the most, the cheap beaters in the lane ahead always meant blissful silence. I could tell the difference in the alarm, but getting 500 false alarms before a real one means you don’t pay attention to it.
I don’t mind the noise on Waze, that means folks ahead of me ARE USING IT and are reporting disabled cars, animals on the road and cops looking for impromptu funding sources. I get suspicious when I’m on the interstate and I see no alerts at all despite having passed a disabled car or two. That tells me no one ahead is using it and I then obey the speed limit. The reason you might see multiple cop sightings in the same area is either because two cops are tag-teaming each other (seen this plenty of times, a speed trap doesn’t have to only have one cruiser or even two) or a victim has driven a little ways before stopping.
The 20 minutes on/off jazz is if cops _are_ looking for your car, the change in headlights might be enough to give reasonable doubt before they pull you over. I figure that wouldn’t have worked unless you got on the gas after seeing a cop pass the other way.
> I also read that most headlights are near perfect parabolic reflectors for radar beams, but can’t do much about that
One thing you can do is drive a car with LED headlamps, many of which don’t have parobolic reflectors since LEDs are intrinsically directional, or at least have much smaller ones as they consist of large numbers of individual elements rather than a big single one. The overall surface area of LED headlamps is often smaller too.
I dunno, I’ve had several “flashy” colored cars over the years (incl. SRT-4 and Mustangs) and I’ve never in my life been nabbed for speeding. why? I don’t f***ing speed. driving a few mph faster than the limit doesn’t get you there much quicker.
it’s not that hard to figure out.
Just stay in the slow lane if you come to the Keystone State, because in Pennsylvania you’ll be one of three people on the road who are obeying the posted limit. The other two are driving a Corolla or an Avalon…
Google Maps for navigation through my Android Auto.
“There’s a Speed Zone ahead.” has been pretty reliable for me. It at least lets me know to be extra careful on the lookout. On a 3000 mile plus trip this summer it did a good job of alerting me to the general areas the local constabulary liked to hang out in.
Does it warn about traffic cameras?
Does AZ still allow them on the loops around Phoenix? That’s the closest area to me I am aware that has them. Haven’t been to PHX in my newer car.
This summer the cameras were usually announced by a little sign at the side of the road.
I stopped using it because after some update, my phone started getting really, really hot while Waze was active.
Waze works pretty well around here where I live. I use it all the time when traveling and have learned to trust its alternative routing recommendations implicitly when there’s a major traffic tie up ahead due to a crash or whatnot.
Btw, I too tend to drive 5-10 above the speed limit on most highways and freeways if weather and traffic conditions permit, and have observed that most cops traveling along local freeways are also doing 5-10 above.
I don’t use Waze, because when I’m driving I’m not trying to fiddle with my phone.
You are the most sanctimonious person I’ve never met.
Then I must be the second one.
Whether he’s sanctimonious or not, his point is valid. Fiddling with a phone while trying to drive at highway speeds isn’t a recipe for profound success. Fiddling with phones has became a bigger issue than drunk driving as a collision cause in many states.
you guys realize CarPlay and Android Auto are a thing, right? Tom Halter’s screenshots are of a CarPlay session.
How big of a rock do you think I live under?
Besides, you’ve either totally missed the point or you did get the point and opted to deflect it.
Around here (Ontario) the ticket for phone use when driving is bigger than the speeding tickets. So I stay off the phone.
Hi, there; I don’t believe we’ve met. Thanks for your input, though!
I agree with the sentiment, but in my experience CarPlay makes the whole argument moot since it makes your phone part of the car’s own system, and does not allow you do do really stupid stuff like read text messages or use a keyboard while in motion.
(If you want to argue that having any kind of touchscreen/large display device in a vehicle is inherently distracting, I’ll personally disagree from my own personal experience. But I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.)
And there we have the next QOTD, and a good one too!
Now, I’m on the side of pious sanctimony against any phone use while driving – not even interested in arguments to the contrary – but I’m also uptight (or righteous or something) about touchscreens, or, worse still, the German idiocy of knobs-on-consoles for a screen. It’s not just that most of the options/sub-menus/sketch pads(ffs!) are techno-titillation practically never used – I mean, really, how often do you faff about with favourite ventilation positions, let alone the 8th level of heated ass-scratcher? – but that even pretty basic functions require a driver to do the equivalent of rubbing one’s head whilst patting one’s tummy. Plenty of car HVAC stuff has been ergonomically obtuse over time, but once more or less settled on dials and a lever or two, they could be used without looking because of feel, and better, without THOUGHT.
Think too that many members of the population are like me in that they regularly trip over their own kneecaps, (that is, poorly co-ordinated as made by god) and it becomes clearer why the ergonomically wonky demands of these things aren’t good at 80mph. As I poke-poke at a hard screen just to turn down the heater and change two lanes, possibly into one that isn’t even there….
Amen! Preach! Oyez!
I don’t know how much younger I am with you, but as a 23 year old person with the hand eye coordination necessary to operate whatever electronic stimulating device I can plug into a TV without a second thought…..I agree with you 100%
My phone is on in my old 90s car, but it’s mostly just used as a glorified Ipod that I use to switch between music with little thought. I’ve never liked center touchscreens in cars at all, not just for the aforementioned distraction issues, but I personally despise touch sensitive anything with the passion of a thousand angry soccer hooligans. Analog controls are easy to use without a second thought and provide tactile feedback to give me confidence in my actions. Touchscreen anything meanwhile, refuses to work correctly if you have so much as a microscopic hint of condensation on your pinky and generally just becomes more of a hindrance for precision and exact specification rather than any form of help. Of course, as a self-admitted luddite who reacts to new technology in the same way a vampire reacts to a cathedral, you’re gonna have to take my opinion with enough salt to turn a public swimming pool into the dead sea.
The problem with your collective arguments: Waze can be set to audio (alerts only). Even a Cookie Monster voice “police reported ahead”. With my phone linked via Bluetooth the screen of the phone doesn’t even have to be turned on to receive alerts via audio.
Who’s being sanctimonious now, good sir?
Waze can be the Bitchin’ Betty of the future!
If only I can get it to say ‘terrain, pull up!’ instead of ‘police reported ahead’
I don’t think you are being sanctimonious Daniel Stern.
Typical me, all this time I thought waze was just interactive navigation, of which I stubbornly scoffed “I can find my way around without a stupid app!” I didn’t know people used it for spotting bears! Now that I now know it’s less effective, always a day late on trends.
Me too, Matt. “Just another substitute for Google Maps”, I thought. Like you I was unaware of this feature.
Google owns Waze. Waze is just Google Maps with more “community” features like this. Police, crash, debris in road etc warnings.
I was a Google Mapper until I started using Waze, it really is much better for driving. The app itself is more streamlined, way less busy with less menus etc, on the screen than Google Maps too.
I chose to link Waze to my calendar instead of Maps. Google Maps is…cumbersome at times.
One thing I wish Waze had was lane guidance. One of the main reasons that I use Google Maps. It lets me know which lane I have to be in to merge or exit. Sometimes the exit is on the left hand side or that I need to be in the center lane because the road narrows or splits up ahead. Google Maps is good about giving me that heads up.
I was unaware of this. I will reevaluate Google Maps on my next trip!
I’ve never been a big fan of Waze and only use it on occasion. I honestly find it more of a distraction to driving than a beneficial tool.
I find anything that’s constantly beeping or talking to me to be infuriating. I had a radar detector for about a week 20 years ago and promptly returned it after an avalanche of clicks and beeps.
I actually have It set up these days where GPS doesn’t talk when it needs to tell me the next turn- my watch buzzes my wrist then I can look down at the screen when it’s safe to do so.
Google Maps also shows speed traps now. I would guess that’s the beginning of the end for Waze.
Thanks for the tips on Google Maps now alerting us on the speed traps, guys. I downloaded it and used it a couple of times, but prefer Apple’s own map application on the iPhone, which when I’m in my Civic is used thru Apple CarPlay.
As to WAZE, I loved it in the beginning, but have to agree with Tom Halter (great QOTD and article, BTW…and yes, I remember Channel One Niner ;o). There are a lot of annoying false and multiple reports, and icons on the wrong side of the road now.
I stopped using WAZE when I got a car with Apple CarPlay as it did not work at first. Now that it does work with Apple CarPlay, I’ve only used it a handful of times.
Now I wonder if I still have my Royal Wazer status? – I may’ve lost it by using the other apps since I got the Civic. :o(
Of the three, Apple’s own map app is the most accurate when it comes to ETA(s) and factoring the unpredictable traffic in the Baltimore/Washington corridor. I’m not sure where it gets its traffic intel, as unlike WAZE, you don’t report the traffic jams. Somehow it just knows. In real time.
Getting the Encore in ‘18 with carplay was a game-changer for me… Apple Maps is amazingly accurate for ETA and is really good with alternate routing and traffic notifications, as you said.
It saved us probably an hour or so once when it rerouted us down farm routes in central IL to avoid a highway blockage caused by a semi fire.
These days unless I’m staying in the neighborhood, I find myself always using Maps, even for places I’ve driven to for 20 years.
Since this is CC, I gotta ask – did the Encore have CarPlay? Because I know for sure that the Alliance did not.
Well played. 😉
(My cousins actually had Alliances. I’d assume if they did have CarPlay, it would have set your phone on fire.)
Agreed on CarPlay being a game-changer. As you can probably tell, all my screenshots in this article were taken with Apple CarPlay.
But how did you get the screenshots, Tom?
There have been times when that would’ve been really handy. I know how to do a screenshot with my iPhone, but plugged into the car?
Mind Blown! 🤯
IOS 13 supports taking screenshots of CarPlay. Same gesture (power button volume up).
For my job downtown the first thing I do when I get in the car, when heading home, is fire up google maps. There are 4 different ways to get to the freeway to go the South then East route. Then there is the East then South route that has 4 different ways from that freeway to my home. Yes there is a route that is usually the quickest, but a wreck or something else can make another way 5-10-15 min quicker.
Now there are times I deliberately do something different than maps says and I’ve successfully trained it that I’m not going the way where I’ll end up having to make a left turn on to a busy street with poor sight lines and instead go where I’ll have a left turn light, even if it is 1 minute slower.
My truck doesn’t have CarPlay or Android Auto but it does have Bluetooth (so I can navigate with spoken prompts from Google), or just use the factory nav which has 4 year old maps (it costs to update) but does sometimes provide traffic updates and offer re-route suggestions through HD radio traffic info. I don’t use voice commands so I will pull over to get navigation going, and then don’t look at my phone when I’m driving. I can choose to accept text messages that are read to me, with surprisingly good text-to-voice conversion, except when someone texts me a link (“aitch-tee-tee-pee-colon ….). Don’t use Waze – tried it a few times and found it useless. And regarding sanctimonious non-phone users, I used my phone quite a bit before it became illegal in California, including text and email, but quit cold turkey and with limited use of my truck’s capabilities as described above, I don’t miss it. As a somewhat serious driver, as well as frequent pedestrian, motorcyclist and bicyclist, I truly think phone use is the biggest cause of bad driving today.
One last gripe about Waze that I forgot to add to my original post: The in-app ads for fast food restaurants. I would gladly pay money for an ad-free version of Waze.
Oh, the jealousy, Tom Halter. Come to Australia, do! It’s a lovely place to travel around – slowly.
10mph over? Here, that’ll be 3 points off the licence (all states linked), and $450. Drifted up to 15mph on some dead-empty stretch? $650 and three months off the road.
Radar/laser detector? Illegal. Speed cameras? Absolutely everywhere, fixed and mobile. All set to book you at any more than 3mph over, literally. Defences? Apart from rare technical oversights or hitches, none allowed (but any sort of entrapment IS allowed). Highest speed limit, including the only road going right across the country with 1,600 miles between cities and one stretch of literally 90 miles with no bend? 68 mph, enforced in part by helicopters on that road. (Well, in the Northern Territory, the limit is actually 80mph, and sadly, was no limit till about 10 years ago, but the NT is huge, remote, and has literally 1% of the population!)
Once upon a time, it was just as you all describe, go with the flow, most traffic over the given limit, and enforced in a common-sense way (more than 10mph only, warnings given, etc etc). For many years now though, even if you have Waze or anything else, if you want to keep a licence, you just don’t speed.
And as a result, driving is often very boring, and always immensely frustrating.
Now, mostly, our oddball Constitutional arrangements work just fine, and daily life is pretty much indistinguishable from anywhere in America, but every now and again, something like this will remind that we are NOT the land of the free!
Google is fine with Waze because well, Google owns Waze.
I don’t really like the wazification of Google Maps. As noted there is more spam and useful information and I don’t like it constantly asking me if something is still there, when it never was there in the first place as people constantly report things incorrectly or by the time it is reported they are well down the road.
Round my town you pay attention to the speed of taxis and licensed mini buses. They keep each other informed of speed traps and road blocks via their radios and dash phones. If they’re doing 50km on a fast stretch of road, it’s because there’s a trap ahead. Last time I got a speeding ticket was……………..1982.
I have trouble staying under the 90 KPH limit here in Thailand and get nabbed by the speed cameras pretty frequently. My vehicle has cruise control and a feature I have never had before, speed limiting. Usually if I set it at 100 KPH I can avoid tickets as the cameras are set to record a speed 10 KPH above the limit. Have not found a good camera warning system yet.
No one heard Waze was recently sending geo challenged drivers seeking the Atlantic City area Borgata casino hotel down dirt roads deep into the sticks here in NJ? Smooth
I am a casual user of Waze. I never use it in the city for normal navigation dudies. I only use it when I’m on a long road trip… and pretty much only for spotting them Smokies.
On a trip from San Diego to Vegas for a softball tournament over MLK weekend a few years back, turned on the Waze for any “Smokey Reports” along the 15. It was a very quiet day for police presence. On the long stretches of the 15 through the desert between Barstow and Vegas, we hooked up with a train of about 15 cars running right at triple digits.
As we are getting close to the south side of Vegas, Waze starts to report cops. A LOT of cops. I thought that there was something wrong with the app, because it was reporting at least 20-30 cops all clustered around one exit ramp.
Even though I thought it was a mistake, I told my husband who was driving to slow down. We pulled out of line and let our speed demon friend drive on and we backed down to the speed limit.
As we get to the exit, you can see a lone police officer on the overpass. Once you passed under the overpass, along the entrance ramp to the freeway were at least 15 cops waiting to be alerted of who to pull over. Continuing past the off ramp for the next 1/2 mile, there were at least 15 more cops out of their cars writing tickets.
Every single car that was in line with us were pulled over. We were the only one that didn’t get pinched that day. Thank you Waze.
That’s exactly what Waze is good at. My finger would have gotten sore punching the police visible icon.