Waze adds hands-free option for traffic reporting, navigation

Waze, the popular crowd-sourced traffic app, has gotten a lot of great data out of its drivers, whose anonymous travel information helps paint an overall real-time picture of traffic flow. But the app has been more of a manual experience, with people entering in their destination for navigation or inputting traffic and accident data while stopped. Now, with the latest update to Waze on the iPhone (s aapl), users will be able to operate Waze hands-free, leveraging the phone’s proximity sensor to initiate commands.

Users who normally keep the app running while driving to stay abreast of traffic conditions will now be able to wave their hand in front of the phone and activate the voice recognition system. They can tell Waze to navigate home or to work, which are the two pre-set destinations that the system accepts right now for voice input. That’s a nice upgrade that puts Waze on better footing compared to Siri and Google’s free navigation system on Android(s goog).

But what’s more interesting is being able to report traffic or accidents while driving. Before, Waze allowed people to report this data but for safety reasons, it would turn off the keyboard while the car was moving. Now, users can input the data while they’re moving by just waving their hand in front of their phone and saying, “report traffic” or “report accident.” Waze will respond by asking for the severity of the situation and users can answer with “heavy,” “moderate,” “standstill” or “done” for traffic reports. It’s a smart way to add more information to the system while keeping people safe. That in turn should add more color to Waze’s traffic reports and help explain to drivers what’s at the heart of some of the traffic slowdowns their encountering.

The latest update also includes the ability to tell others about your destination, estimated time of arrival or that you’re running late. The Android update with the same features is expected in the coming months.

Adding voice control is a nice and logical step for Waze, which is now up to 12 million users, adding 1.5 million users a month. I really like the use of the proximity sensor, which gives Waze users a simple way to start voice actions. Google’s Search app also reportedly leverages the proximity sensor on the iPhone, allowing people to enter in a search by lifting the phone to their ear. But I can’t seem to make it work these days on my iPhone 4.

Waze’s use of the proximity sensor is a more elegant solution that works well within the Waze use case and should encourage a lot more active use of Waze. And it’s a nice alternative to waiting for Siri to open up to third-party developers.

“Siri is an amazing product and hopefully we’ll be able to use it eventually though Apple hasn’t given any insight on that. We couldn’t wait for it,” said Michal Habdank-Kolaczkowski, Waze’s director of communications.