You glance down at your phone where Waze, the traffic-outsmarting GPS app, is charting your course. “You just got a road goodie!” the screen says. Wondering what that is, you narrowly miss your next turn into an unmarked street. You look to the phone again, trying to figure out where to go, and instead see an ad for fast food. You impatiently tap the screen to make it vanish, fumbling a little as you drive with your one free hand.
Aaaand, now you’re lost (and an accident waiting to happen, IMHO).
I have a love-hate relationship with Waze. On the love side, I get that the app has saved more people from being late than I can count. The human brain just can’t compete with Waze’s crowdsourcing traffic intel. On the other side, I fear the human brain is also no match for the assault of notifications about “bonus points,” “road goodies,” and updates on my “status” in the game— wait, are we playing a game? I thought we were just navigating to a business meeting. Frankly, it concerns me so much that Google has embraced the “gamification” of driving, which could have such serious consequences, that when people ask my why I don’t use it (and it comes up, surprisingly, all the time), I just flatly declare that I don’t think it’s safe, even if it does save a bit of time in traffic. Sorry, not sorry.
I’m not the only one whose concerned about how Waze distracts drivers. Turns out, a little distraction while driving—say, when I quickly glance down to check the route—can mess up my reaction time for the next 27 seconds, according to The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “In this brief time,” says Tamra Johnson of AAA National, “an individual driving at 25 MPH could travel the length of nearly three football fields.” And according to Waze, more than 50 million people are using the app. Do the math.
Sigh. While I still don’t use Waze, I’m giving it another look because so many of you are. Here are a few ideas on how to use Waze more safely.
Go to Settings, and…
Choose the right voice
While Waze may tempt you with fun voices such as Tony the Tiger’s and the Colonel’s from KFC, they won’t read you street names. Be sure that the voice you choose includes street names, or you may find yourself squinting at the map while in motion.
Turn off “road goodies”
Ever wonder what those Pac-Man-like candy icons are? While they may give you a sense of accomplishment, road goodies don’t do anything except increase your “status,” basically showing how involved you are with Waze. Rather than risk looking away from the road for an unimportant alert, turn them off.
Turn off “Mute Waze during calls”
Getting a call mid-navigation has sent me floundering for my phone, trying to reactivate my app before I miss my exit…and taking my attention off the road. Switching off this function ensures that your directions won’t be interrupted.
You can opt out of some pop-up ads and announcements, all of which can be distracting while driving.
Decide whether or not to use Bluetooth
While sending Waze’s sound through your car’s speakers might seem ideal, in some systems, the Bluetooth can cut out and you’ll miss part of an instruction. You may want to test using Waze with and without Bluetooth.
Basic Waze safety tips
Get a phone holder
While going hands-free isn’t risk-free, I can personally vouch for how much a phone holder has improved my focus while driving (especially when I hit a bump and the phone falls between the seats). I have one like this on my dashboard, and this one is great too— with an integrated charger.
Program your destination before you start driving
I know how tempting it is to start driving first and to program your destination second, especially when you’re in a rush. But remember the 27-second distraction window, and don’t do it.
Get comfortable with pulling over
Lost connection? Phone flew out of the holder? Pull over to sort things out. It may feel like you’re losing time, but an accident or a traffic ticket will cost you a whole lot more.
Are you a Waze safety ninja? Leave me your best tips in the comments!