Eastern Distributor or Princes Highway to Sydney airport at 4:30pm? Is Monash Freeway still backed up or have I missed the morning rush? It can be frustrating when driving or sitting in a taxi to know which route is fastest to take at different times of the day. While Google Maps in Australia has long been a useful tool for planning different routes, and suggesting how long they might take when traffic becomes a factor, up until now it hasn't been able to help you make those tough decisions based on what's actually going on out there on the roads.

Starting today, a new feature is going to make those decisions a bit easier. Traffic information on Google Maps will show you the current traffic status of many motorways, major and minor arterial routes in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and smaller areas like Wollongong, the Central Coast, Geelong, the Sunshine Coast, and the Gold Coast, to help you avoid congested areas and plan the best route from A to B. It's part of our commitment to making Google Maps an essential tool for Aussies as they go about their daily lives.

To turn traffic information on, click the button labelled 'Traffic' next to the 'More' button at the top left of Google Maps. The colours you'll see overlaid on the roads correspond to the speed of traffic (relative to the speed limit of the road): green is free sailing, yellow is medium congestion, red is heavy congestion, and red/black is stop-and-go traffic. The information is updated every few minutes.

The same traffic information is also available on Google Maps for mobile, so you can ask your passengers to check it out on your mobile device while you're on the go and make real time route changes based on the data.

One of the coolest parts of this new Google Maps feature is that everyone can play a part in helping other motorists make smart decisions based on traffic information. How? By crowdsourcing. If you have Google Maps for mobile running on your phone, have GPS enabled on the device, and choose to enable My Location, your phone will send anonymous bits of data back to Google about how fast the device is moving. When we combine that anonymous speed data with that of other mobile devices travelling on the road ways, across thousands of phones moving across a city at any one time, we can get an even better picture of live traffic conditions, and we share it with everyone for free in the Google Maps traffic layer. The more people that particpate the better - because traffic results get even more accurate for everybody.

Privacy protections were built into this feature right from the start. We only use anonymous speed and location information to calculate traffic conditions, and only do so when you have chosen to enable My Location on your phone. Scale provides further privacy protection: when a lot of people are reporting data from the same area, we combine their data together to make it hard to tell one phone from another. And even though the vehicle carrying a phone is anonymous, we don't want anybody to be able to find out where that anonymous vehicle came from or where it went — so we find the start and end points of every trip and permanently delete that data. If you'd like to stop your phone from sending anonymous location data back to Google, you can find opt-out instructions here. We announced this crowdsourcing of traffic data in the US last month - you can read more about it here.

Making Google Maps part of your morning routine could save you a stressful trip into the office, and perhaps help prevent traffic slow spots from becoming major issues by helping you and other motorists to avoid them. Here's to happier, safer motoring in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and surrounding areas!