Car Corner
Traffic Tracking

May 3, 2013
By Scott Lewis

Over the past few months I have decided to write about car technology that I thought of a long time ago... even though it is somewhat in use, or thought of by others by now. We have already covered wirelessly charging electric cars on the road, and we covered self driving cars from the point of view of when you would or would not want this.

This month I want to talk about traffic tracking. Monitoring seems like a bad word, mainly because we have overused that word. There is lots of monitoring of traffic. What I want to talk about is tracking traffic in real time through phones running GPS apps... and maybe not even running the app.

Let's say for instance I plug an destination into my iPhone. It displays a route and I hit start. How many other people with iPhones are on that same road using their phone's mapping apps. Why couldn't Apple collect just that information from the phone and use it to determine in real time if there is a traffic jam ahead?

It could use the knowledge that there are many cars traveling slowly to offer to reroute you around traffic. At the least, it could use that information to show you an adjusted arrive time based on the fact that it knows you will be traveling 20-40 miles per hour below the speed limit for 20 minutes of your drive.

I used Apple in my example, but it could work with any cellular phone with a mapping app. In fact, if the GPS is on in your phone it could be providing the information about the speed on a road even if you are not running the app.

OK. So there are huge privacy concerns here. And none of us want our speed recorded for fear of getting a chicken-shit ticket that does nothing to providing safety, but only collecting more taxes. We also want assurances that only your movement through traffic is the only information collected.

The point is, this technology exists today. We just need to put all the pieces together.

There is no reason that your phone couldn't know where you were going and do this proactively. You leave for work about the same time everyday. Your phone recognizes when you leave the house you are heading to work... and it knows the route already from having been on it several hundred times. So it automatically checks the route and finds traffic problems and alerts you to that information. This could appear on your phone as a text message, or some other alert, and provide a button to press that would launch your mapping application with an alternate route.

What if the alternate route is jammed too. How many times have you jumped off the highway when traffic came to a standstill. Then 1 mile down the road you see the highway pick up, and now you are stuck on the access road. Or you turned off and ran into another traffic jam.

If all the phones are tied together... you could know far more about traffic. For instance, the phone could know from other phones that the jam you are in will be cleared up in 3/4 mile, and it could check the real time traffic of phones on any alternate route before putting you on it.


Until we have self driving cars that allow you to sleep, or read the paper, or watch TV on your commute, it might be a good idea to allow phones with GPS to do the job of tracking traffic and constantly correcting drivers to the smoothest route to their destination.

Privacy be damned... lets just avoid traffic.