Waze works by requiring its users to manually report what they see on the road: traffic jams, potholes, speed traps. Now the City of Los Angeles will ask its Wazers to be vigilant about reporting one more thing: The vehicles possibly involved in hit-and-run collisions.
Much like the Amber Alerts which are delivered to phones via the Emergency Alert System, Wazers would receive short messages with details about hit-and-runs, including the location of the incident and description of the vehicle and/or driver. The alerts would pop up as notifications for those who have downloaded the app, which in Los Angeles includes 1.3 million users. Waze has previously shared its route data with a dozen cities worldwide, but this is the first partnership with a city specifically focused on hit-and-runs.
Using Waze makes a lot of sense in hit-and-run investigations where time is of the essence. Last year, 27 people were killed and 144 were severely injured in hit-and-runs, according to the Los Angeles Times but only about 10 percent of the drivers have been arrested. The city previously announced a social media strategy to push information about hit-and-runs to LAPD Twitter and Facebook accounts, for example. Putting the data in front of hundreds of thousands of drivers currently navigating LA streets would be far more effective.
But turning app users into a kind of crowdsourced police squad could also be a spectacular failure. Imagine putting out an APB on a make of car that’s extremely common, or the possibility of a Wazer who decides to take matters into his own hands. The app has already been criticized for its cop-reporting feature, which police say endangers their safety. This community-powered watch is already the way that Amber Alerts work, of course, but those notifications are far less frequent. The LAPD will have to make a snap decision to decide which of its 20,000 hit-and-runs cases a year are serious enough to blast out to the Wazers on the road.
Los Angeles already has one of the most famous love-hate relationships with Waze: Angelenos love using it to help navigate the city’s traffic, but not when it directs more drivers down their street. Perhaps this play to make the app more useful will endear its critics, as will the other part of the partnership: The city will also work with Waze to provide detailed information about street closures (including film shoots) and construction projects, and in exchange, Waze will help siphon pothole reports or other service-related queries to LA’s 311 request system.