In the past few years, US law enforcement agencies have voiced several concerns about Waze, the popular Google-owned navigation app that uses input from drivers to map traffic, road hazards, and police activity.
This week, the New York Police Department reportedly upped the ante with a letter to Waze, arguing that users are creating a public danger, and potentially breaking the law, by helping other drivers avoid checkpoints.
CBS New York reported Wednesday that the NYPD sent a letter to Waze asking the platform to disable its police-tracking feature, particularly with regard to protecting DWI checkpoints. According to the report, the letter stated,
Individuals who post the locations of DWI checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws.
The posting of such information for public consumption is irresponsible since it only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving. Revealing the location of checkpoints puts those drivers, their passengers, and the general public at risk.
In a statement to the press, a representative for Google seemed to suggest that while the company is always concerned with officer and civilian well-being, the app is operating well within its rights and purview for the time being.
“Safety is a top priority when developing navigation features at Google,” they wrote. “We believe that informing drivers about upcoming speed traps allows them to be more careful and make safer decisions when they’re on the road.”
In many ways, the Google-owned platform has built upon previous traditions in driver-to-driver communication, including for the sake of avoiding police vehicles. Since the 1970s, long-haul truckers and other road regulars have used what’s known as Citizens Band or CB Radio to warn each other about pileups, dangerous road conditions, and very definitely police speed traps.
Waze has similarly allowed users to flag the location of police vehicles on the road for several years, but not to specify whether they’re part of DWI checkpoints, speed traps, or simply on the scene of traffic accidents or construction. Users can only indicate that police are visible, as in the case of checkpoints or road accidents, or not visible — for example, when a highway patrol car is tucked out of sight.
As The Verge noted this week, law enforcement agencies have pushed back against Waze’s police-tracking feature on several occasions, and even sought to adjust the playing field by posting fake speed traps to the app. While law enforcement has had success in pushing Apple, for one, to remove DWI-avoidance apps in its store, both Apple and Google have maintained that DWI checkpoint locations published by cities themselves are fair game for warning drivers.
A spokesperson for Waze also commented by email,
By empowering drivers with information on traffic flow, they’re able to make better decisions on the road. We believe highlighting police presence promotes road safety because drivers tend to drive more carefully and obey traffic laws when they are aware nearby police. We’ve also seen police encourage such reporting as it serves as both a warning to drivers, as well as a way to highlight police work that keeps roadways safe.
Given the app’s history with law enforcement so far — including its sharing of cumulative traffic data with some police departments, for planning purposes — it seems unlikely that Waze and owner Google will choose to cave on this point anytime soon.
Hopefully the same goes for sharing real-time or user-specific data on drivers’ actual travel speeds vs. posted speed limits, or other on-the-road behavioral details, as monitored by Waze and Google Maps; should that happen, old-fashioned speed traps and DWI checkpoints wouldn’t even be necessary.
In the meantime, here’s a little thematic road music to accompany you on your way.
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