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Get to Work Faster with Beat the Traffic (BlackBerry/iPhone)

Let's not beat around the bush: traffic sucks. The problem is, you never know when you're going to get stuck in it until, well, you're stuck in it.

Instead of waiting for the radio announcer to deliver a traffic forecast, just fire up Beat the Traffic on your BlackBerry or iPhone. This handy app maps out traffic trouble-spots in your area so you know what you're in for -- and whether you should steer clear.

I test-drove the iPhone version of Beat the Traffic, which is free. In a matter of seconds it zooms to your location and overlays traffic status for all nearby expressways. The indicators are color-coded green, yellow, and red so you get an at-a-glance indication of what's happening in any given spot.

For a more accurate look at a road's condition, tap its traffic-camera icon to get a real-time image. Alas, this way-cool option is available in only 31 cities; mine (Detroit) isn't one of them.

I especially like the Forecast button, which switches to a traffic-projection view indicating what conditions will be like in 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour, and so on. This is great for those times when you don't know what's causing a backup -- accident? construction? cop on the side of the road? -- and want to know if it makes sense to get off at the next exit or stick it out.

Beat the Traffic also lets you report traffic incidents if you happen to be in the middle of one that's new and/or not on the map. (Consider this your piece of the crowd-sourcing pie.) Just tap the Report button and fill in the details. (Better yet, let a passenger do it.)

The app's My Traffic screen gives you reports and stats on personalized routes (like, say, your commute), though this feature requires a $19.95 annual subscription.

Even without that, Beat the Traffic is one seriously handy app. I'm not sure it's markedly better than Inrix Traffic (another freebie), but it does have one clear-cut advantage: It's available for BlackBerry, not just iPhone.

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