Rachel Persky ’15 rushes out the door and into her car to drive to her friend’s beach house, pulling up the navigation app Waze on her iPhone. She is running 10 minutes late and is stressed that she will not be on time. Quickly, she types in the address of the house and is surprised to see that Waze tells her to take the 101 Freeway north to Decker Canyon, then to Pacific Coast Highway. While normally Persky takes the 101 Freeway north to Malibu Canyon to Pacific Coast Highway, she decides to trust the application and follows the route that it gave her. After turning right on to Pacific Coast Highway, then left in to her friend’s driveway, Persky is shocked that she has arrived on time.
“I love using Waze because it gets me places so much faster than other apps,” Persky said. “I use it all the time.”
Waze is an interactive app that not only crafts routes for drivers based on real-time traffic patterns, but unlike other navigation apps, it allows drivers to report traffic, police cars and hazardous objects on the road.
The app gives the shortest route possible for drivers because it factors in their reports when calculating routes. Drivers also like knowing where police officers and red light cameras are on the road so they can avoid a ticket if they are speeding or doing something else that is illegal.
Uri Levine, Ehud Shabtai and Amir Shinar created the application in 2008 in Israel, and Google acquired Waze in 2013 for $966 million.
Out of 424 students polled, 58 percent use the app, which is second on the app store for free navigation apps. While many find the app beneficial because of its interactive features, others find using it to be dangerous because it can be distracting.
Jack Price ’15 frequently uses the app to navigate and prefers Waze over Google Maps and Mapquest. While the iPhone comes equipped with its own navigation application, Maps, many download Waze for free instead.
“Waze gets you to where you want to go as fast as possible,” Price said. “I think Waze is the best navigation app because it tells you where police officers are, and I like that it takes you through back streets, and you feel like you are cutting all the traffic.”
Some students do not like Waze, though, and prefer other navigation apps.
“I use Google Maps and it still gives you a short route and multiple options, and tells me how to get places,” Cooper said. “I think [Waze] is overhyped because I don’t understand the difference. I’ve used it, it’s gotten me where I need to go, but same with Google Maps. There is no difference.”
At first Cameron Kao ’15 found Waze annoying because it would take a while to reload directions when he made a mistake, but the app has grown on him.
“I’ve been using it more and more and have been liking it more and more because I like how it tells you where cops are so I can slow down,” Kao said. “I also like how it will take you on service roads just to avoid traffic.”
Teddy Sokoloff ’15 switched from using Google Maps to Waze about a year ago, because he found the Waze routes to have less traffic. Sokoloff reports road conditions on Waze, but tries to only do it when he is at a stop.
There are multiple safety concerns to using the app while driving. While Waze detects when a person is driving and does not allow for a driver to type an address on Waze unless they say they are a passenger, drivers still can use the app by lying.
Nina Dubovitsky ’15 almost got in an accident checking her phone, waiting for Waze to reload after she missed a turn. Dubovitsky now only uses it before she drives to estimate how long her ride will be.
There are some flaws to the app, she added.
“It kind of makes you do weird turns, like turn left on a busy street without street lights,” Dubovitsky said. “It makes the drive a little bit more dangerous because of that, so I use Waze just for timing.”
Dubovitsky also questions the interactive part of the Waze.
“I don’t report traffic because when you’re driving, that’s actually so dangerous, because it is kind of an incentive to text and drive which is not what drivers should be doing,” Dubovitsky said.
The app allows a driver to report road conditions by giving them the option to click on what they would like to report, then click on another button that best describes what exactly they are reporting, and then submit the report, all of which require drivers to look at their phones.
Dubovitsky used to like that Waze would notify her when a police officer was close to her, but now she finds that part of the app to be annoying because she gets notifications from Waze a lot while she is driving about hazards that do not necessarily affect her.
Unlike Dubovitsky, Cosima Elwes ’15 finds the interactive part of Waze very helpful, especially the part that notifies her when a police officer is near her.
Elwes said that she was using Waze while driving on Laurel Canyon and was going above the speed limit when the app alerted her that she was approaching a cop car. She then slowed down to avoid getting a speeding ticket.
The police tracking feature of Waze, however, has sparked some concerns as to whether the app creates a safety hazard for law enforcement officers.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the man accused of killing two New York City police officers then killing himself Dec. 20, posted a screenshot on Instagram of the Waze app notifying him that he was approaching a cop car before the attack.
While the New York Police Department does not believe that Brinsley found the officers through Waze, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck found the police tracking feature of Waze to be a danger for police officers, and sent an email to the CEO of Google, Larry Page last December.
In the email quoted by The Los Angeles Times, on Jan. 28, Beck notified Page of the police department’s concerns about Waze.
“I am writing to alert you that your company’s ‘Waze’ app as currently configured poses a danger to the lives of police officers in the United States,” Beck said in the email. “That danger was just demonstrated by its use in the recent assassination of New York Police Department Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.”
In the email, Beck encouraged Page to contact him to help change the configuration of the app in order to ensure the safety of police officers, though no changes have been made to the app yet.
The company replied on Jan. 27 saying many people in law enforcement actually think Waze is beneficial because “most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Police officers are not the only people who have a problem with Waze. Residents of Encino have seen an increase in traffic on the once quiet streets they live on, believing it has a link to the app and its growing popularity.
“Last year, I only left 10 minutes for commute time in the morning, and I didn’t have a problem,” Jessica Spitz ’15 said. “But this year, a lot more people use the back streets I use, so I have to get up a lot earlier and make sure I am out of my house on time.”
Spitz lives less than one mile from school, but it takes her 15-20 minutes to drive to school in the mornings due to the traffic jams on the side streets around Coldwater, she said.