Waze: a new social media and mapping app for your smart phone

What do you get when you combine social media with a traffic map? You get Waze, a smart phone app for drivers to help each other navigate their commutes.

FOX 10 put the Waze app to the test, and it worked as advertised. It warned us of trouble and steered us away from it.

But as we learned, not everyone is happy about this high-tech street guide, which includes the location of every police officer that drivers report.

On FOX 10's trip to test the app, the directions came from an iPhone, and as soon as we left it warned us of trouble ahead.

"You got a police alert up ahead; it is showing other slowdowns," said the Waze app.

The app works like Google Maps, you enter your destination, and Waze guides you there. But unlike Google Maps, Waze uses the power of social media to connect everyone who is using it at the time.

The drivers who see problems on the road can report it on Waze, to inform everyone else using the app nearby.

"Watch out, a vehicle stopped on the shoulder ahead," said the app.

"And there's the actual vehicle stopped in the incident reported, I am going to give them a thumbs up and thank them for that, and that's exactly the kind of alert you're going to see on here, and get a warning of," said Jeff Moriarty, FOX 10 Director of Social Media.

"Watch out, police officer ahead," said the app.

Drivers can even report a police officer when they see one.

"If I were to say here's a police officer, which you like to call them John a speed trap... I can say oh wow, look at that. Then I can tap that tag as police visible, or hidden so that everybody else will see that the police are here," said Moriarty.

"One of the major concerns on our plate right now happens to be the Waze application," said Jonathan Thompson, Director and CEO of the National Sheriff's Association.

Some law enforcement agencies don't like Waze, they fear bad guys will use it to track police.

"We believe this application permits the bad guys to know exactly what is going on where, when, and how," said Thompson.

Thompson and others point to the murder of two New York City Police Department officers last December. The killer had Waze on his phone and computer.

"Was he using it for those two officer killings? We don't know. But to me that's enough information to cause a pause, and also to raise attention to the average person in this country," he said.

Thompson said Google, which owns Waze, hasn't been much help.

"Google has done everything in its power to stiff arm us in this conversation," said Thompson.

Waze supporters say the app isn't designed to track down police, there are other ways to do that, and it's not even designed to avoid them.

"It's not designed to help people elude the police, but it is designed to make people aware of everything that is going on, on the roadway, and that includes police," said Moriarty.

Waze has proved it's technology is remarkable, even if it can't do anything about the road's most dangerous hazard, bad drivers.

"That's the one thing this cannot account for is bad drivers, there're millions of them out there," he said.

You can download the Waze app for free on your iPhone or Droid. You just have to put up with annoying popup ads when your car comes to a stop.
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