Users on Waze, a Google navigation app featuring crowdsourced traffic updates, have apparently been helping one another avoid city's sobriety checkpoints. The NYPD is none too pleased about the sneaky drunk driving hack: On Saturday, it hit Google with a sternly-worded letter, accusing the tech giant of tacitly undermining the city's goal of Vision Zero, a New York free of traffic fatalities.
"Individuals who post the locations of DWI [Driving While Impaired] checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct, since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws," the letter states. Sharing that information, the text continues, "only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving," putting "those drivers, their passengers, and the general public at risk."
The NYPD "demands" that Google take action at once to disable the feature, but to be clear, there's no button in Waze that drivers can push to flag a DWI checkpoint specifically. Waze allows users to mark various points of interest—traffic, police presence, accidents, hazards, closures, a need for roadside assistance, and notable places—directly on the map. Eliminating the feature might simply mean removing police from the menu, although it seems possible that users could still maneuver around that hurdle through the creative use of other flags and their phone cameras.
Letter from @NYPDnews acting deputy comm. for legal matters to @waze @googlemaps. So far a dept spox says this is just about #DWI checkpoint alerts, not speed cameras or speed traps or police alerts. Attempts to have those removed have obviously been unsuccessful. #1010WINS pic.twitter.com/p1oWcbhlwz
— Samantha Liebman (@SamiLiebman) February 6, 2019
Although traffic fatalities have declined from their 2013 highs, collisions remain a persistent and deadly problem in NYC. One week in December saw three elderly New Yorkers hit and killed by drivers, while motorists (and sometimes also angry NIMBYs) continue to endanger cyclists by infringing on protected bike lanes. While 2018 marked a record low number of traffic deaths (196), it also brought a small rise in pedestrian deaths.
On that score, speed cameras—even the toothless network currently keeping an eye on the city's schools —help make streets safer for foot traffic, prompting drivers to slow down lest they face legal consequences. Recently, Google Maps reportedly enabled a feature that tips off drivers to some speed camera locations. As Streetsblog points out, that knowledge could encourage drivers to speed freely and without detection, although Google maintains that's not the intention.
In a statement to Gothamist, a spokesperson said: "Safety is a top priority when developing navigation features at Google. We believe that informing drivers about upcoming speed traps allows them to be more careful and make safer decisions when they're on the road." The spokesperson did not say whether or not the company plans to comply with the NYPD's request.