The Information Age is upon us. An endless stream of data and the mobile devices that connect us have already begun to revolutionize modern life, including life behind the wheel. GPS navigation, real-time traffic and weather updates, broad entertainment options and useful information like local gas prices are at your fingertips. A range of mobile apps are available to improve your trip, whether you’re commuting to work or embarking on a family road trip.
Our favorites are both helpful and simple to use. Take Gas Buddy, for example, which provides a list of local gas stations to help you find the best price without going too far out of your way. For years I’ve relied on the app, which is updated by users to reflect current pricing at thousands of stations. It has helped me to save some money on gasoline or locate a station that sells diesel when I need it. Gas Buddy couldn’t be more convenient. With the app installed, simply tap the screen of your smartphone for a list of local stations with pricing for each fuel type or grade.
Google Maps remains our go-to resource for maps and directions. When using the GPS-based navigation app at the time of your departure, Google Maps also provides real-time traffic data, giving you the option to choose a less crowded route. Time estimates for trips help you schedule your day, whether you’re going local or long-distance. Google Maps also gives drivers the option of hearing turn-by-turn directions by voice, allowing them to stay focused on the road.
We’ve previously reported on the outstanding Roadtrippers app, a must-have for the automotive adventurer. Typical mapping apps are fine when you already have a destination in mind. Roadtrippers includes navigation functions, too, but goes several steps further. The app helps you find the most interesting, scenic and curious places, and even provides pre-planned trips based around themes like movies and automotive culture. Use Roadtrippers to plan your next highway adventure and discover exciting spots on every leg of your trip.
Occasionally, I turn off the radio while driving and just listen. The engine, tires and wind each sing a song, hopefully one that’s familiar and free of harsh or unusual noises. When my vehicle passes the sound test, it’s back to the tunes; music and driving simply go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, drivers are no longer limited to AM/FM radio or music they’ve brought along on a CD or iPod. Music apps like Pandora, Slacker and Spotify allow drivers to stream audio over the internet, giving smartphone users access to an almost unlimited library of music. Spotify is our favorite because it allows users to listen to an entire album. A free version is available, but only paid subscribers get music delivered commercial-free. Spotify includes a social element that lets you hear playlists from people you follow. Check out NAPA Know How on Spotify to hear the music that get NAPA Racing drivers Chase Elliott and Ron Capps revved up.
While each of these tools can help drivers, even the best driving apps can be a distraction. That’s why it’s wise to use them responsibly, or in other words, not while you’re driving. Still, some forward-looking apps could help make our roads safer by alerting smartphone users to danger, whether they’re in a car or crossing the street. Jalopnik reported on WiFi-Honk, an app developed by students and faculty at University of Missouri-Kansas City. It allows drivers and pedestrians to receive an alert of an impending crash – like a virtual honk of a car’s horn – delivered automatically via a smartphone. Apps like this could someday become commonplace, effectively preventing crashes and saving lives.
Do you have a favorite driving app that helps you get there more quickly, comfortably, safely or affordably? Let us know in the comments below.
Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at AutoTrader.com in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.