On long drives, I often find myself running two real-time mapping programs on my phone at once: Google Maps and Waze.
The reason is that Google Maps seems to be a better, faster-loading map program that shows alternate routes on long trips more quickly.
But Waze, which is actually owned by Google, has one feature I greatly appreciate: It lets other drivers warn of the locations of road hazards and police speed traps.
I’m not an especially lead-footed driver, but I’d still rather know where the cops are. It’s been a very small first-world problem for me that Google didn’t just combine both apps.
This week, however, Google announced the next best thing: Starting immediately, drivers will be able to report hazards, slowdowns, and speed traps right on Google Maps.
Apparently this has been rolled out in some cases to Android phones, but it will now be available across the board — on Android and iOS. I’m excited, and I think other drivers will be, too.
But one group that will likely not be happy is the police. In recent years, police have asked — or even demanded — that Waze drop the police-locating feature.
In February, the NYPD wrote to Google:
The NYPD has become aware that the Waze Mobile application … currently permits the public to report DWI checkpoints … Accordingly, we demand that Google LLC, upon receipt of this letter, immediately remove this function from the Waze application.
The Waze feature — and presumably the new version on Google Maps — makes no distinction between police who are running speed traps, manning DWI checkpoints, or simply sitting by the side of the road.
“There is no moral, ethical, or legal reason to have the police locator button on the app,” the sheriffs’ association wrote in 2015. “We are concerned that terrorists, organized crime groups, and gangs will find this a valuable tool to further their illegal activities.”
Google has always responded by saying that drivers slow down and strictly obey the law when they know that law enforcement is nearby.
That’s certainly my experience driving up and down the highways of New England and the New York area. Of course, if drivers know to watch their speed when they’re around speed traps, they’ll get fewer speeding tickets.
There’s a temptation here to suggest that “follow the money” is one reason law enforcement might object to drivers notifying one another to where police speed traps are located.
Most departments would dispute that there’s any link to revenue, or to the idea of police having informal quotas for the number of tickets they have to write or arrests they have to make.
But there could be one other reason to “follow the money,” on the other side.
Earlier this month, Apple announced a major update to its own Maps application. This was a big milestone for Apple, since years ago it admitted its own app was really bad — and actually encouraged people to use Google Maps instead.
Now, Apple is back in the maps game, as my colleague Jason Aten reported. And mere weeks later, Google introduces a popular interactive feature that some users have wanted for a long time.
Sounds like a potential win for both Google and its users — and a potential loss for police who oppose it.
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