NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you’ve ever wished for a way to avoid traffic jams on your commute to work, you’re in luck. There’s now an app for that.
Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) updated its Maps application for Android phones this week to include a new feature that factors in traffic conditions when giving you driving directions. The up-to-the-minute directions are intended to help drivers find their way around the congestion.
“If you’re like me, you probably hear the traffic report telling you what you already know: traffic is bad on the road you’re currently on, and you should have taken another,” Roy Williams, a software engineer on the Google Maps Team, wrote on the company blog. “It doesn’t need to be this way, and we want to help. So we’re happy to announce that Google Maps Navigation (Beta) will now automatically route you around traffic.”
Until now, directions from Google Maps focused on routes that had the shortest travel time, but ignored real-time conditions, meaning that highways were often given preference even during gridlock hours.
The updated app, which is free and available exclusively on Android phones, will take into account real-time traffic based on satellite data as well as historical traffic trends in particular regions to recommend the most efficient route. In addition, the app lets users visualize traffic conditions on surrounding streets with a color-coded system indicating the current level of congestion.
Not only could this smartphone app shave minutes off your drive, but it could help your health as well. One study from last year found that excess traffic causes commuters to experience increased health problems including stress, anger and sleep deprivation.
As Williams cautions in the blog post, though, there is no guarantee that the app will always be able to find a faster way to travel than the route it recommended before. That said, he notes that the app “will always try to get you where you’re going as fast as possible.”
Of course, there is one potential downside: If the app becomes widely adopted, and drivers begin to rely more on the routes recommended by Google, it could end up shifting some of the congestion from the highways to alternate roadways and side streets, which may be preferable for drivers but upsetting for the neighborhoods that are burdened by increased traffic.
Is your commute long and tedious? Check out MainStreet’s ranking of the states with the worst commutes and see where yours falls!