How to use Waze

Crowdsourced interactive mapping app Waze gives you the lowdown on traffic

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Waze is a free, ad-supported interactive navigation app with benefits. Not only does it use your GPS-equipped smartphone to calculate routes from one place to another, it uses social media-based crowdsourcing to alert you to what to expect while you’re on the road. Drivers on the Waze platform act as the road’s eyes and ears to alert fellow drivers about traffic, police, accidents, detours, speed traps, construction, and anything else that’s happening nearby or on your route.

The more people contribute to Waze, the more accurate it becomes as events get verified and updated. If traffic is bad, Waze automatically alters your route so you can avoid the slowdown. Because it helps you avoid congestion in real time, Waze can also give you a fairly accurate estimate of your arrival time that you can communicate to friends or colleagues who may be waiting for you. Waze can guide you turn-by-turn on how to get to a location, lets you find the cheapest gas along the way and even lets you pipe in your favorite tunes and podcasts directly within the app. If you have Apple’s CarPlay or Android Auto, you can view Waze navigation on your car’s display.

Waze uses your location to calculate the time it will take to get from one place to another, and it helps you map out your drive between different places. It can link to your contacts or Facebook so you can see where your buddies are, too. If you’re using Waze on your smartphone screen, as opposed to CarPlay or Android Auto, you may see ads covering directions when your vehicle stops in traffic.

Here’s how to get on the road using Waze for iOS or Android.

Getting started

When you want to go somewhere, you can rely on Waze to put your route on the map. First, punch an address into the search box reached via the magnifying glass on the bottom left of the screen, or tap on the microphone icon at the top of the window to speak your destination. You can list your frequently used addresses, like home or work, into the program so thereafter, you just need to say Home or Work or the Vet, for example.

Plot your route

You can view your saved favorite places, like your home or work, by tapping the search button at the bottom of the screen. Waze analyzes information that it pulls in from other drivers in the general area and immediately suggests the fastest route based on up-to-the-minute driving conditions. You can access plenty of other information as well, including the best time to leave to bypass traffic. Tapping Routes on the left gives you alternate routes and their estimated times. You can also pre-plan drives in advance and associate them with your calendar or Facebook events. The gear icon at the upper left of the pane leads you to an abundant menu of settings and preferences where you can customize the app even more.

See only the info you need

You can set up the app’s preferences to convey only the information you need and in the way that’s convenient for you by tapping on each setting, and in some cases, toggling controls on or off. Use the settings to set driving preferences, notifications, and account information, should you choose to sign in to the app. These controls let you define how your map is displayed, specify which icons you prefer, control the information you see on your map, pick the kinds of roads you prefer to travel on, and much more.

Real-time info

Even though Waze is owned by Google, maker of Google Maps, the app has a totally different look and feel and emphasizes different aspects of your journey. Google Maps is great for finding your way around places big and small — and it has become especially useful when walking and using public transportation. Waze is specifically targeted to drivers and road conditions that may impede a trip or commute. While Waze provides some of the same traffic information that you find on Google Maps, additional data is derived from other drivers who are using the app in real time. The crowdsourced nature of Waze provides a more realistic view of road conditions at any given time.

Report incidents

One significant Waze feature lets drivers alert each other to accidents, police issues, detours, road closures, or anything else that will slow down traffic. To report an incident, tap the orange speech bubble icon at the bottom right of the screen and then tap the alert type: Traffic, police, crash, hazard, a map issue or road closure, and tap Send. As you do this, other drivers can confirm and update your report and you’ll receive points and unlock achievements within the app’s scoreboard. New users, for example, are Baby Wazers, but can ascend in the ranks as they use the app to drive numerous miles, file reports, or connect with friends. You can add favorite stores to your maps or choose a mood like Cat, LOL, Zombie, and many more after 100 miles.

Do not file reports as you drive because that would be hazardous and distracting. You don’t want to cause an accident. If possible, have a passenger enter the information into the Waze app or wait until you have pulled over into a safe place off road to enter this information into the app.

Integrations

If you listen to tunes, podcasts or a playlist while you drive, you can access them from within the Waze interface. You can start, pause and skip through your selections without switching apps. Tap the Spotify icon on the home screen, for example, and Waze will launch the app on your phone. Operating Spotify within Waze only lets you change playlists and skip or stop a song or podcast. For full controls, like searching for songs, you’ll still have to launch Spotify on its own.

You can use Waze to calculate how long your trip will take and share that with colleagues or family. Letting Waze access your contacts allows you to communicate your ETA to friends, family, or colleagues who may be waiting for you at the other end of your trip. On iOS, you must register your phone number with the app, though on Android you can give the app permission to access your contacts in the settings.

Protect your privacy

There are many ways to connect with others in Waze, including via Facebook when friends are using the app, your contacts, and fellow Wazers while they are on the road and transmitting their mood and status as part of the app’s community. But you don’t have to go there. If you want to remain anonymous in Waze, just use the Settings > Privacy control to make yourself invisible on the map. That means no one, including contacts, will be able to see you. You may also want to delete addresses stored in the app if you no longer need them or if you don’t want to leave a trail of where you’ve been. You can also use your phone’s privacy settings to disable background location when you close the app.

Bottom line

Waze is a deep, full-featured app that goes beyond street level navigation to let you master your driving environment on multiple levels. Its integration with CarPlay and Android Auto, combined with the ability to integrate calendars, social media, and entertainment in a single app, augments its utility on the road. Its crowdsourced functionality, which delivers up-to-the-minute traffic information in real time, and the ability to let people file reports on their immediate experiences, enhances the app’s value for everyone.

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