Google updated its Waze app, Friday, giving Los Angeles’ drivers the option to avoid difficult intersections in order to improve safety on the road.
Engineers from Google met with company developers and a Los Angeles map editor to identify hard-to-navigate intersections and find alternative routes to avoid them. The company also updated its app to prevent recommending left turns at intersections with no left turn arrows on the stoplight, a frequent issue that Waze users refer to as a “suicide straight.”
The update is automatically enabled for Los Angeles drivers with the app.
Waze began as a community project in Israel, before eventually expanding to a full-fledged company with wider availability. The app describes itself as a “community based traffic and navigation app” which uses real-time data provided by its drivers to determine the quickest route to places. Google purchased the company in 2013, and since then has developed and expanded the app’s features to widespread popularity and use.
The app balances difficulty with distance and still strives to find the quickest route available for users.
“If you are commuting 40 minutes to an hour, maybe it adds a couple minutes here and there,” said Waze representative Amber Kirby to CBS.
Google has other plans in store for the app as well. Head of Brand Julie Mossler revealed that Waze may soon take into account crime rates of neighborhoods when designing routes in order to keep users in safer areas.
Last year, a 70-year old woman was shot and killed in a famously dangerous slum in Brazil after Waze incorrectly led her to the wrong address. The incident prompted questions about the safety of the app. Francisco Murmura, the husband of the slain woman, blamed Waze for his wife’s death.
“The app was responsible for everything. It was the Waze app who led us there,” Murmura said. “I have no doubt that they are responsible for it … Does the app have problems? Yes it does.”
Mossler said that Waze is attempting to tackle the issue head-on.
“We’re working with the government, we’re working with local community groups who are able to identify which neighborhoods have safety issues,” she said. “Of course there’s a risk, if you don’t handle it correctly, and that’s why it’s gotta be done with deep sensitivity, and I think we’ve done that so far.”
CBS reports that the high-crime update may be launched in Brazil before the Summer Olympics, but no plans have been made to bring it to the United States yet.
More recent criticism of the app include the unintended traffic consequences caused by its widespread use. Los Angeles residents and neighbors Leon Sturman and Preet Dhillon spoke to NPR about the congestion that has plagued their neighborhood street since Waze became popular.
Dhillon and Sturman said that the app’s penchant for rerouting its users to less congested streets has led an influx of drivers into residential neighborhoods for their morning commute, clogging small roads and blocking residents.
“Take a look down the block,” said Sturman. “How many cars are there? Thirty cars already just waiting as far as the eye can see.”
Last year, a Los Angeles city councilman unsuccessfully introduced a motion to ask Waze to avoid residential areas.
[Photo By Paul Sakuma/AP Images]