As awesome as driving can be, it can also be annoying—there’s heavy traffic, rude or ignorant motorists, and sky-high insurance premiums and gas prices, to name just a few irritations.
But one of these annoyances is about to become a thing of the past, if a group of enterprising Winnipeggers have anything to say about it. The company is called TrapTap, and its crowd-funded product is designed to warn you of police radar traps, red-light cameras, and school zones before you’re close enough to them to get into trouble.
This should sound familiar—lots of smartphone apps offer the same functionality. Like Waze, Trapster and other products, you use TrapTap by installing its free app, which uses your phone’s GPS and data connection. But unlike those other services, TrapTap’s app speaks to a hardware companion, a Bluetooth-connected “button” that lights up red, green or blue.
“It’s a not-so-annoying backseat driver,” TrapTap founder Bryce North told Autofocus, but the reality is TrapTap is very much a front-seat device.
Taking the distraction out of speed trap apps
The button, which is about twice the diameter of a toonie, mounts to your dashboard somewhere you can easily see it – and touch it – while driving. Being able to touch it is key: “If you’re driving down the road and you see a speed trap and the light doesn’t come on,” explains North, “just tap the button to inform the rest of the community… We’re the hands-free version of Waze.”
This one aspect – being able to use TrapTap without interacting directly with your smartphone – could make a big difference to drivers. Distracted driving is very much illegal, and using an app with your hands while driving is not just against the law, it’s really dangerous.
Pressing the TrapTap button is no more distracting than pressing the power button on your stereo. Compare that to the multi-step sequence required to report a police presence using the Waze app, which is so complicated the Google-owned company suggests you pull over to do it.
Powered by a replaceable two-year battery, the button can be moved from one vehicle to another and paired with multiple smartphones. Cleverly, thanks to its embedded sensors, there’s no need to access the TrapTap app yourself as long as it’s running in the background. As soon as the button detects motion, it connects to the app for you.
Unfortunately, TrapTap is kind of a one-trick pony. While it does a great job of offering alerts and providing a one-tap method of informing other drivers, it doesn’t do much else. You’ll still need a GPS app if you want directions or to be informed of hazards like road debris, construction or heavy traffic, sapping your phone of even more power and consuming more data while you’re on the road.
Legal—and even law enforcement-approved
But what about the legality of using TrapTap for its intended purpose? It turns out being informed of a speed trap location is perfectly legal in both the U.S. and Canada, unless you’re using a radar detector. The act of informing others is legal, too, notwithstanding some police forces’ belief it shouldn’t be. In fact, some police forces are totally OK with it.
“Our position is that the more people who know that the cops are out, the better,” says Sergeant Kerry Schmidt of the highway safety division of the Ontario Provincial Police. However, Schmidt is quick to caution drivers that just because TrapTap’s blue light doesn’t come on doesn’t mean they should ignore posted speed limits. “We’ve got airplanes in the sky, police on the ground, unmarked vehicles—we’re always fluid,” Schmidt points out.
Mark McBride, a criminal law specialist practicing in California, doesn’t see any reason drivers should worry about using the TrapTap – or any similar app – so long as it isn’t a distraction. “The conservative, veiled concern about them is they are allowing people to get the drop on cops,” McBride says.
“People have a right to communicate, to free speech, and to assemble peaceably,” he notes, pointing out that those who get ticketed for flashing their high-beams as a speed trap warning are likely being fined for distracting other drivers, not for alerting them to a police presence.
The problem with crowd-sourced-powered startups
The biggest drawback to using TrapTap isn’t a legal one, it’s an issue of accuracy. Because the device’s knowledge of police speed traps is dependent on crowd-sourced reports, the size (and participation rate) of the crowd is going to determine its ability to warn you.
“To be able to point out the speed traps and the mobile police locations, that’s all community-based,” North says. “It takes time to build a community, it takes time to build an army,” he says.
But that community, at least right now, is very, very small. North acknowledges this but claims TrapTap has value even without a network of speed-trap spotters. He points to the two other alerts users get: School zones and red light cameras (TrapTap flashes red) and speed limit alerts (flashes green). These are both powered by TrapTap’s main database. “With third-party companies we’ve mapped out over 60 countries and over 67,000 points of interest,” North says.
Then there’s the price. At $179 US, TrapTap’s MSRP is a lot of money for what’s basically a simple Bluetooth-connected LED light. North says the company started with a subscription model, but when that proved unpopular moved to a one-time price “based on the value of saving yourself one speeding ticket a year.”
Whether drivers agree this is a good value remains to be seen, but as of publication, North and his co-founders have surpassed their goal of raising $85,000 and still have 46 days to go. If you back the project now, you can get one for as little as $139 US.
North and his co-founders are onto something with TrapTap. Eliminating the distraction associated with app-only systems like Waze and Trapster makes being informed while driving a whole lot safer, not to mention more legal.
But we have doubts about whether TrapTap can acquire a large enough community to make its central value proposition worth the investment. Partnering with a giant like Waze as a contributor to (and beneficiary of) their crowd-sourced database would give the product instant viability. Alternatively, the button itself could be sold as a Waze accessory, at a lower price point.
The road to success is never smooth, especially with new products, but it’s great to see a Canadian startup tackle such an ambitious plan. If they make it, TrapTap could be second only to the Timmy’s drive-through as the best thing on our roads.