PSA: Do Not Use Social GPS App Waze to Get Free Turn-by-Turn Directions on Your Smartphone

Wave LogoAlthough the venture capital funders are throwing their support—$37+ million of it—behind the social GPS app Waze, my conscience will not allow me to recommend this free turn-by-turn driving directions app to groovyPost readers. It’s not that I don’t want you to be able to get free user-driven maps, traffic reports and turn-by-turn voice prompts from your iPhone, BlackBerry or Android smartphone. It’s not that I don’t think that crowdsourcing traffic reports, speed traps and tips for alternate routes is a great idea. I just do not want you to die.

Let me reiterate: this is not a review of , the social GPS app that may put TomTom out of business and get the traffic reporter from your local news channel laid off. This is a public service announcement (PSA), urging you to please, please, do not download Waze for free and use it to not only get you from point A to point B faster, but also have fun while doing it. By using Waze, which is like a perfect marriage between Google Maps and Foursquare, you will get a groovy social layer to your daily commute, avoid traffic snags and eventually crash and die. So don’t use it. Here’s why:

Waze – The Social Driving App

What if your GPS was interactive? What if it let you communicate with drivers on your route? What if it let someone 10 miles down the highway from you tell you—in real time—that there was an accident and that you should get off at the next exit and go around? What if driving became social in a more meaningful way than honking your horn at jerk-wads who cut you off right in front of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and flashing your lights to alert passersby of speed traps?

Waze answers that question with it’s free app for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. That answer is that driving would be more intuitive, more fun and more deadly.

Here’s how Waze explains itself:

On paper, Waze is absolutely brilliant. Long before cell phones were anything but a prop for Zack Morris, I always wondered why normal car drivers didn’t have some way of communicating with each other, just like truck drivers do with their CB radios. While it might open the door to some really nasty road rage induced comments, being able to know what the guy in the car next to you knows could save you time, money and perhaps even your life by warning you of hazardous road conditions.

This community-minded network of pooled traffic and driving route information is embodied in Waze’s best feature—its 100% user-driven maps. When users drive around with Waze open, the app feeds data back to the community. This lets other Waze users know how fast traffic is flowing and if there are traffic jams, etc. Waze users can also discover roads that aren’t in the Waze maps. After traversing these unknown roads, they’ll be added to the map for other Waze users to incorporate into their routes or see on their map.

While the Waze community at large is certainly useful, you can also associate yourself with specific commuter groups. For example, in Pittsburgh, there’s a Waze group for everyone who has the unfortunate burden of having to drive up Route 28 everyday. Aside from gaining a sense of camaraderie (and perhaps an obvious source for carpools), Waze commuter groups give you the most relevant information for the roads you drive everyday. It’s like a personalized traffic report.

Waze users can also report traffic accidents and other road hazards. Waze will then be able to tell you how long ago the event occurred, whether it’s on your route and other pertinent details. This is way more information than the radio traffic reports give you, and way more useful.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

You should notice from this screenshot, however, that it appears that a Waze user was the one who was involved in the accident. Although I wasn’t there, and she claims it wasn’t her fault, I can’t say that I’m surprised. I’ll discuss that later.

Getting Directions from Waze

Even if you’re not interested in the social functionality of Waze, you’ll certainly benefit from the free turn-by-turn GPS navigation that Waze gives you. With the TomTom iPhone app costing a whopping $49.99 and the Google Maps iPhone app being stubbornly limited, you’re not likely to find a better GPS app for the price.

Waze lets you search for addresses as well as location names within 200 miles driving distance (for now). For each route, it gives you a handful of alternatives and an ETA, both of which improve the more you use Waze.


The onscreen icons tell you how many miles there are before your next turn, and the voice prompt is loud and clear, giving you plenty of warning. Waze voice prompts even work in the background, allowing you to listen to music or use another app and still get directions.  There are a number of languages and voices, including Santa, Elvis, a Boy Band and some other fun ones.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

Of course, Waze isn’t perfect—and I still feel a bit nervous trusting it as my sole navigator. For example, in the circuitous overpasses/underpasses/tunnels/bridges surrounding the Pittsburgh area, Waze had trouble figuring out if I was on top of the mountain or in the tunnel, or if I was on the parkway or on the road just beside it. That’s par for the course for most GPS’s, though. But luckily, if you have a smartphone, you also have Google Maps as a backup, in case Waze gets too confused. But unlike Google Maps, Waze can update your route automatically if you take a wrong turn. In terms of automatically reporting traffic conditions, I noticed that there are some false positives. For instance, Waze has trouble telling the difference between a traffic jam (what it calls a “complete standstill”) and a normal stoplight. Also, Waze is quite the battery sucker, due to its constant use of your phone’s GPS. But overall, Waze works very, very well for a free app.

Waze – A Deadly Game to Play

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you again that this is not a review of Waze—this is a warning about the deadly consequences of using Waze. Taking cues from Foursquare, Waze has added a gaming element to their social driving app that allows you to rack up points. You get points for driving a certain amount of miles, discovering roads and routes and, most dangerously, driving over little goodies that appear on your route. It’s kind of like you’re playing a giant game of Pacman. I’m not saying that Waze’s gaming aspect isn’t fun—quite the opposite, actually. And that’s why it’s so dangerous.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

The whole time you’re driving, Waze is dinging and donging, scattering candy across the map like it was a parade and sending you notifications about achievements and opportunities via popups. And even though you know it’s just a silly game, and even though you know that sound is just the noise you hear when you get +2 points for driving over a lollipop, it’s incredibly hard to resist looking at your screen. To make matters worse, some of the prompts only go away if you touch a tiny little X—and in spite of the fact that we all know better, it’s nearly impossible to resist clearing off a notification from any screen.

Waze - Free Social GPS w/ Turn by Turn Directions

Waze is aware of the dangers of distracted driving, and in an effort to keep you from making a poor decision, they disable typing while the car is moving. That’s all well and good, except that it (A) doesn’t make sense if you’re the passenger in the car—which is really the smartest way to use this app, or any GPS and (B) it actually does let you type while driving if you dismiss the warning message.

I understand the allure of social gaming in location-based apps. I know it’s all the rage, but when it comes to driving, it just doesn’t add value. But it could lead to fatalities, which haven’t been a good thing in gaming since Mortal Kombat. Also, in spite of the enthusiasm from VC backers, Waze isn’t profitable yet—they plan on selling data to traffic companies and including targeted advertising in the app, which will only add to the distraction.

Frankly, I’m surprised that this app is even allowed. If it’s unsafe to talk on the phone while driving, and it’s unsafe to text while driving, why wouldn’t it be unsafe to be on the lookout for tasty candy and snapping photos of ducks crossing the road while driving?

So, because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night without doing so, I’m going to warn you one last time—in spite of how groovy Waze is, in spite of the fact that Waze is exactly what commuters have needed for decades, in spite of the fact that Waze is one of the best free turn-by-turn GPS navigation apps you can get, do not use it.  Because you will die.



  1. Zaniel


    Well, I don’t want to die either jack but I’m not sure if your serious or not so I’m gonna play with it this weekend anyway.

    One question, are there any privacy issues with Waze? Are they going to sell my driving Patterns to someone so they can put up billboards on my drive to work? Or perhaps tell my gf where I parked my car last night?

    • groovinJackman

      That’s a good question, and I’d have to say, almost certainly yes they’ll be selling your driving data. But I can’t imagine any kind of real profitable and malicious use for it. My wife was worried that someone might be able to tell when we were leaving home (thus when a good time to rob it would be), but you can put your identity to anonymous so no one knows it’s you.

      But yeah, I think Waze is going to have to start selling targeted advertising in the app–hopefully nothing as annoying as popups like “YOU ARE 5 MILES FROM AN ARBY’S!! HOW ABOUT A BIG BEEF N CHEDDAR?” Probably will be something more like, “Hey, Pittsburghers–interested in some steeler’s tickets?” Or if they are really clever, something like, “Looks like you’ve driven 5,000 miles–how about an oil change? here’s a coupon for $5 off at Pennzoil”

      I’d consider that a small price to pay for free turn-by-turn directions.

    • groovinJackman

      …oh and yes, I am dead serious about not recommending this app to ANYONE who is driving without a co-pilot. It’s just too distracting–with the points and the bonus items and the notifications and whatnot.

      The Santa turn-by-turn prompts are hilarious, however. If you are using this app, I recommend firing it up, then allowing it to run in the background. You’ll still get the directions and the points, but you won’t be tempted to watch the map for snowflakes and candy canes, rather than watching the road for motorcyclists and wild turkeys (both big hazards in Pennsylvania).

      • L⭐C

        Waze can be used with audio feedback and spoken turn-by-turn directions.

        If people aren’t comfortable touching their phone while driving, they certainly shouldn’t. There are some drivers that should pull over before adjusting the radio tbh

  2. Shockersh

    So I grabbed it Jack and so far, I’m not dead yet. That being said, it is very distracting but I have a simple way to set it on my dash so I can use it while I drive.

    Anyway, thnx for the FYI on the app.

  3. Imogene Love

    So I grabbed it Jack and so far, I’m not dead yet. That being said, it is very distracting but I have a simple way to set it on my dash so I can use it while I drive.Anyway, thnx for the FYI on the app.

  4. Andres

    mmmm… I loose my time reading this, is not dangerous. why American´s have to scare with everything….

    • MrGroove

      Well…. I thought it was kinda funny ;)

  5. Matt

    ANY iPhone app is dangerous while driving as long as the user looks at his screen. To say it is “it’s incredibly hard to resist looking at your screen” is the same for any iPhone App that has a dynamic display, not just Waze. Current navigation systems do the same thing. My Garmin is constanly popping up ads for Best Western. I just chose not to look, as any safe driver would. Blaming Waze instead of the user is much like saying that the gun is what kills people, not the person. Although I agree with your premise, car makers are constantly putting more and more “features” in your car that distract you. Ford’s SYNC and MyTouch are two examples; and Ford’s SYNC equipped cars have a high safety rating. Once again, it is how the user choses to use the technology, not the technology itself. I find Waze incredibly useful, and I rarely look at the screen. The messages dismiss themselves, and I am under no obligation to input anything. I set my destination at the start of my route, and listen through my speakers for any warning. I glance at Waze every so often where it’s mounted just as I would a GPS.

    I expect more and more of this technology to become ubiquitous in our everyday lives, including our vehicles. How we use it safely is our responsiblity and duty as drivers.

  6. Matt


  7. boat_bucket

    (From the privacy policy)

    “Meta-data that we collect

    Waze collects information about the use of the Services. For example, Waze may record the frequency and scope of your use of the Services, the duration of your sessions, the web pages that you visit, information that you read, content that you use or create, advertisements that you view or click on, your communications with other users and third parties, the Internet protocol (IP) address and the name of the domain that serve you to access the Services, and the geographic location of the computer system that you are using to log-in. Such data is usually automatically collected and stored in log files of the Services’ computer servers.”

    They record everything you do on your phone!!!


    “If Waze reasonably believes that you have breached the Terms of Use, or abused your rights to use the Services, or performed any act or omission that Waze reasonably believes to be violating any applicable law, rules, or regulations. Waze may share your information in these cases, with law enforcement agencies and other competent authorities and with any third party as may be required to handle any result of your wrongdoing;”


    “If Waze is required, or reasonably believes that it is required by law to share or disclose your information; “… it will do so

  8. captain

    I think Pandora will kill you. Watching the album art display distracts me. Oh my god, I looked down, there’s a car in my lane.


    Wow, hell looks a lot like Trump Towers.

  9. stonzee

    I use Waze and I do not look at the screen when it dings or dongs. I just keep driving.

  10. Renato

    Man, how wrong were you back in 2010!! Waze is simply brillant and far better than any navigation around! It saves me time to joy other things of my life rather being jammed in traffic!! Watch out for what you write about, time passes and you can be exposed as a narrowmindedtechguy

  11. Mike

    I agree with this article. I was excited to start using Waze recently – until I realized how distracting the app was. Social networking + 1 ton of metal travelling at speed + busy streets = dead people.

  12. jackn

    Android too? or just iPhone?

  13. Tom Morgan

    I drive different roads everyday in the South. I have found that this app is not a safe alternative for a serious GPS assistance while driving! In fact, the app is not legal in states where texting is prohibited. Aside from that issue, It is not accurate outside any metropolitan areas, is only intended for short distance travel. Driving should be serious and with NO ADDED SAFETY RISKS! This app will cause you to be liable in an accident regardless of fault! It is a free social media app and the sole purpose for its development was, and is, to solicit advertisements for profit. Your identity is not private (i.e. facebook, etc.) When you use it, you will pay the price of safety of yourself and others! A young girl driver was convicted for texting in a fatal crash using this app and the victim died. Buy a legitimate app for your legitimate driving, otherwise, your are driving illegitimately and illegally! …. just saying….

  14. Gavin

    You can turn off all of the distracting stuff in the settings – easy, no death.

    • Patty

      Gavin, how do I “turn off all of the distracting stuff in the settings”?

  15. JW

    I was recently recommended Waze (now owned by Google), I have BIG concerns about the privacy of this App, all other Apps on my iPhone have three settings on location sharing, Never, Always or Only When I use the App. Waze only offers Never or Always. However, it gets worse. I set this app to NOT run in the Background and I closed it down. Later it launched itself, I registered anonymously and yet it wrote to someone and notified them of me asking them if they wanted to add me as a friend. I want nothing to do with the social aspects of this App and as it clearly leaves something running so it can launch itself how can I trust what else it is running to spy on me? This is a Google app after all, Google track you via toolbar’s, search within browsers and of course they record everything you do.

    Now I have to get my iPhone Jailbroken to run Apps that tell me what code this app has installed without my permission, meanwhile I am going to uninstall it and just add it back if I urgently need to do GPS or maybe I will just go pay for TomTom which just provides traffic directions! $50 is not a lot to pay for your privacy!

  16. russel

    This article makes a valid point–if you ignore the actual words. To sum it up, disregarding all the “it will kill you” remarks, use common sense and pay attention to the road while driving.
    Condemning a single app does nothing. I use Waze for directions & sync to Bluetooth devices on visor. If i receive a call it reads the name or phone# aloud. Any typing or social/info areas I use, I do after parked or if I’m a passenger. Also, i have absolutely no popup sounds from the app.
    So i agree with avoiding distractions but this applies to ANY APP- really any hand use of a phone if your driving. With the integration of Bluetooth into everything today, the only thing to blame is poor judgment! I’ll stick to using Waze when i need GPS nav.

  17. HAL9000

    If anyone can’t manage waze and driving a car then they shouldn’t be driving, the idiot who wrote this garbage needs to get his face out of his buddies lap and drive.

  18. Oakende Rex

    I use Waze everyday. I have a commercial, 22′ long, one ton, diesel truck that weighs nearly 12k when loaded. I drive in Houston, 150 to 200 miles a day, on average. Waze is a God send. I have an 4×8″ display on my radio that is actually an Android tablet incorporated into the radio. I have Waze installed on that. When I get in the truck I turn on the hot-spot on my cell phone and it connects to the internet. It uses very little data, I have never gone over my 3gb of tethered data limit. I do not use my phone as a GPS. It’s too difficult to hold in one hand, drive and keep an eye on the traffic. My set-up works just a good or better than my old Garman GPS. I have all of the whistles and bells turned off. No Road Goodies, no other Wazers, no turn by turn voice distractions or audible alerts. Waze sits in the peripheral vision of my right eye and I can easily know my speed, location, next turn or exit without taking my eyes off the road. I haven’t had a car accident in 10 years and haven’t been pulled over in 13 years. I report very few incidents unless it’s a traffic problem or a cop, but only if the traffic is light enough. I normally have a passenger and they do the navigation and reporting for me.

    The one problem I do have with Waze is that it takes me in funny little circles through a neighborhood sometimes when it would have been more efficient to have stayed on a major road. Other than that, Waze saves me a ton of time not sitting in traffic or figuring out the route for me instead of me trying to blunder around using a Key Map.

    I think that it saves fuel, time, frustration and carbon whatevers (for all you stinking greenies out there).

    Now before you get all up in arms about me driving around in a very large diesel truck that will flatten your little Prius and pollutes up the planet. My trucks have all been converted to waste vegetable oil, they burn used fryer oil from various Chinese restaurants in the area. There are zero carbon emissions from my trucks, they emit a sweet smell of french fries and only release water vapor instead of the carbon spewing gasoline engines that are in the most efficient Prius’. I buy WVO for .75 cents a gallon, filter it through a centrifuge and put it in my third tank. I even use the filtered out bits as compost in my garden. The main thing for me is the savings on fuel (that puts me that much closer to being in that one percent category everyone complains about, but would kill to be in), I’m currently saving $1.37 on a gallon of fuel and I get better mileage out of WVO than I do diesel (but only by 2 mpg).

    Well, there is my two cents, Waze good, Prius bad!

    • Stefan

      Do you have anything to back up that burning WVO produces zero carbon emissions? Didn’t think so. Burning WVO emits exactly the same amount of carbon as burning diesel.

      • Oakende Rex

        WVO is Waste Vegetable Oil, not BioDiesel. I burn straight waste vegetable oil, no petroleum additives. Here is the theory on zero emissions…

        “Plants use sunlight and photosynthesis to take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the Earth’s atmosphere to make vegetable oil. The same CO2 is then put back after it is burned in an engine. Thus vegetable oil does not increase the CO2 in the atmosphere, and does not directly contribute to the problem of greenhouse gas. It is really a way of catching and storing solar energy; it is a renewable energy.”

  19. Dissatisfied Reader

    I am disappointed that you would write such a heavily opinionated article while barely supplying any facts to support them. I used to think that groovyPost was interesting, a great source of greater knowledge. This article has proven me to be oh-so wrong. I use Waze, as so many people, and it causes remarkably few fatalities. Yes, Waze is imperfect, but what upsets me is that this article is even more imperfect. You are making very powerful accusations that people who use Waze will die, while cherry-picking your data and ignoring the far vaster population of people who use it and live long lives. I will not stop using Waze because of this article, but I will stop reading groovyPost. I hope that you are happy.

  20. Oakende Rex

    Thank goodness for Waze this past week. All of the flooding from Hurricane Harvey left many Houston roads and freeways underwater. Thanks to the users being able to report flooding and road closures and hazards via Waze, it sure made getting around to distribute supplies to the shelters a lot easier and expedient for me and many other volunteers and Houstonians in general. Thank you Waze

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