Anyone who’s used Waze is familiar with the navigation app’s insistence on making left turns on busy streets where there’s no signal to stop traffic. Waze actually has a name for these types of situations: “difficult intersections.” And a new feature will become the default setting on the app to help drivers avoid them—something Waze says will make streets safer.
For the past few years, Waze’s community network has been working to identify these intersections like the “risky left” described above. Now drivers will be given an alternative route, like going to the closest signal instead, or using a series of right turns to make turning left easier. This might add travel time in some cases, and not every single difficult intersection can be avoided. Drivers can also disable the new feature if they would rather make their way across a multi-lane road, Frogger-style.
The setting to bypass difficult intersections will launch in Los Angeles today, which has one of the largest communities of Wazers—about 10 percent of LA drivers use Waze. The city works closely with app developers to help provide them with data via LA’s open-data portal, Peter Marx, the city’s Chief Technology Officer, told Gizmodo. “We provided the locations of signalized intersections to Waze, as we would to any other traffic app, because we want to use every tool to relieve congestion and stress for those driving around the city.”
The move is also being seen as a big win for the city’s Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic deaths. “Vision Zero demands creativity in all our approaches to traffic safety, and technology plays an ever-increasing role in how people chose to get around,” said LADOT general manager Seleta Reynolds. “This feature will help guide Angelenos to safer, less stressful routes.”
A less stressful commute for drivers also means safer streets for the other users. Left turns are particularly dangerous for pedestrians, which is why LA’s big crosswalk redesign stops traffic in all directions to let cars turn left. “For people walking in Los Angeles, left-turning drivers pose a serious threat,” said Emilia Crotty, policy and program manager for Los Angeles Walks. The largest portion of traffic collisions that kill or seriously injure people walking or biking on LA’s streets are from left turns—about 12 percent. That’s more than speeding (10.8 percent) and red light running (5.2 percent).
There could also be another benefit that cities will start to see as drivers embrace this feature. Discouraging drivers from turning down these smaller roads that don’t have signals might also help with cut-through complaints from homeowners who claim Waze is sending more cars down their streets. While it could be an effect, said Waze’s Julie Mossler, “we do not want to tie the two together as the new feature was not intended to address the neighborhood concern.”