By Ben Parker, WBZ NewsRadio 1030

BOSTON (CBS) — Navigation apps on cell phones are used by millions of drivers and even Boston has formed a partnership with Waze to help locate traffic trouble spots.

In 2014, Waze launched the Connected Citizens program and Boston has been using it gather information about traffic situations in the city. Meanwhile, Waze receives traffic data from the city to improve their app.

The information, collected from about 630,000 Boston area users, can be used in part to help the city manage congestion on the roads.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says the city is still in the early stages of how they can institute it correctly and make sure it works properly.

“I think he have to be very careful,” he says. “With the Waze app, the way it works when you click on it, it will tell you so it’s not like a Facebook where you’re constantly looking for an update.

“You should be able to hear what’s going on and we want to be very careful with that as well.”

65 municipalities have partnered with Waze including Boston. Connor McKay, data scientist for the city, says the partnership has allowed for some important gathering.

“We do pipe that information directly into the traffic management center and display it on a map that’s bumped up against our existing camera infrastructure,” he says.

Waze spokeswoman Meghan Kelleher says there are safeguards built in to their app. She says Boston has found “success” by participating in their program.

“We’ve had partners travel to Boston to see how they handle their innovation,” she told WBZ NewsRadio 1030, “And we run these experiments to better the community and ease the congestion.”

She says safety is a top priority and they encourage drivers to use the app as intended by docking it and using voice activation features.

“I know Boston has used it for their Seaport district and looking at congestion in the morning and seeing if they have changed light signals, or if they issue move-alongs with the police. Does it help with double-parked cars?” she says.

Texting and driving is illegal in Massachusetts and many other states. When it comes to using navigation apps, MassDOT’s Director of Highway Safety Jeff Larson says safety has to be the priority.

“People can change their behavior and recognize what is dangerous and not participate in those things that are dangerous,” he says. “There was one point in time in this country’s history where people would say, ‘Well, I drink a little bit and it’s OK,’ (but) we’ve put that genie back into the bottle and people know now drinking and driving and driving under the influence is dangerous.

“We don’t do that in the same way we used to in other generations and we can learn that for this as well.”

Safe Roads Alliance has petitioned social media organizations and others to include warnings to combat the problem, something similar to what the Waze app does now.

Alliance President Emily Stein credits Waze for having a warning on their app, although imperfect since a driver can tell the app they are a passenger and still interact.

Stein’s father was killed by a distracted driver, who was using a GPS unit at the time of the crash five years ago. She says distracted driving is nothing new, but technology has changed the dynamic.

Distracted driving is the number one killer of people between ages of 15 and 34, Stein says, and she would like to see more education about the topic.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ben Parker reports


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