Can social media kill the traffic jam?

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A Sync 3 trip map displayed in a 2010 Ford Edge.

The new OnStar updates will make traffic-jam avoidance much easier. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Jim Trottier/Flickr)

Advanced computer systems like MyFord Touch and similar devices found in cars like the just-announced Toyota Entune make staying connected to social media and your contacts via the in-car cloud both safe and easy. But as Popular Mechanics reports, it’s not just about Facebook, Twitter and friend-finding anymore. A new feature scheduled to appear in the OnStar platform will enable drivers to receive live updates on local driving conditions and data on the quickest route home.

Live traffic jam updates, via the cloud

While standard GPS units give traffic jam updates, the information provided is based on historic traffic data. Such units have not taken variables into account as they are introduced, such as road changes or more cars in circulation. Now mobile and dashboard devices are crowdsourcing drivers, bringing real-time reports into the in-car cloud.

As traffic information group Inrix’s Director of Community Relations Jim Bak says, all drivers with such devices gain insight into traffic conditions on all roads. This is an improvement over even what is offered by Google, which treats arterials, city streets and local roads like uninterrupted highway. Whereas new in-car social media technologies can help drivers interpret road conditions accurately, services like Google Maps do not currently have algorithms sophisticated enough to approximate the information delivered via crowdsourcing.

Is this trip really necessary?

Tom Vanderbilt, author of “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us),” is unconvinced that social media updates via the in-car cloud – whether it be via OnStar, MyFord Touch or the Toyota Entune’s computer system – will make a significant difference, beyond additional driver distraction.

“The classic issue is if everyone is told road A is suddenly not congested, everyone shifts to road A, and it becomes congested. Past a certain point, when roads reach the sort of capacities that spill into stop-and-go traffic, route information isn’t going to matter much,” he told Popular Mechanics.


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