Tech I Can’t Live Without: Real-Time Traffic

Jeff Schrum

To say I can’t live without it is an understatement. Real-time traffic has actually changed my life.

Imagine pulling up a map, whether on your GPS navigation device or your cell phone, and seeing the current traffic flow and any incidents along the major roadways. That’s real-time traffic. You’ll find this feature on a growing number of portable GPS navigation devices and on select wireless phones. It’s also a feature of factory-installed navigation systems on a handful of newer cars.

Before I had it, I didn’t understand why you’d need it. Why not just pull up web-sites like or Google maps (with its snazzy traffic feature) before I leave? I could also just tune into the local traffic report, available every 10 minutes on FM and every two minutes on XM’s traffic channel. But now that I have real-time traffic on my smartphone, there are no other options for me. I want traffic information on the go. I want it specific to my route. And I want to know how to navigate around it. Real-time traffic delivers.

Here’s how it works: You can enter a location (GPS-enabled smartphones and navigation devices can automatically pinpoint your current location) and see the condition of the nearby thoroughfares. In most metropolitan areas, interstates, freeways and main arteries are covered. Displays will vary from device to device, but generally you will see the red/yellow/green traffic flow and icons indicating accidents and roadwork. I find the color-coded conditions most useful for my daily routines, where I know the area very well and can make my own determinations on the best route or alternative route.

If I’m visiting friends or clients, I simply enter an address or call up one of my contacts’ addresses and within seconds I see the highways and major roads on and around my route colored with green, yellow or red depending on the speed of traffic. If there’s a yellow or red segment (the popular hues here in the Washington, DC area), I can see nearby or parallel roads suitable for detours. If the Beltway is all green, I know I have time to grab a latte.

It’s also incredibly useful when you’re out of town or in less familiar areas. Simply choose your destination and get turn-by-turn directions and an estimated arrival time based on traffic flow along your route. Some GPS devices take it a step further by giving you alternate directions to your final destination via roads that avoid known traffic incidents.

So far, it’s saved me time that I would have wasted stuck in traffic, and has proven far more useful than the online maps or my factory-installed navigation screen ever have.

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