Traffic reporting is the near real-time distribution of information about road conditions such as traffic congestion, detours, and traffic accidents, usually as part of a radio or television broadcast program or as a mobile or automotive application. The reports help drivers anticipate and avoid traffic problems. Many reports mention alternate travel routes and resultant travel times. In addition to periodic broadcast reports, near real-time traffic status information is now common with traffic congestion maps available by personal computer, mobile device, luxury automobile and GPS units.
At radio stations where news radio programming is the primary content, roadway conditions are tracked by numerous methods including monitoring police radio frequencies. Some radio stations also have agreements with states' highway patrol that permit a direct connection with a law enforcement computer. This methodology enables real-time information gathering of the latest accident reports to states' highway patrol divisions. However, more and more, state departments of transportation have agreements with various technology providers to deliver automated traffic tracking data which is resold and redistributed.
For mobile and automotive applications, the use of anonymous GPS datapoints are used to create the real-time traffic reports.
Many medium and large metropolitan areas have helicopters to overfly accident scenes and other areas of high traffic volume. This data collect method helps each radio or TV station to provide up-to-the-minute, live reports or traffic conditions. Stations in larger markets may have their own helicopter, or share resources with a local television station to help spread the costs. In many markets, a local or regional traffic reporting service may have contracts with several radio and television stations. This helps stations avoid the expense of purchasing or leasing their own helicopter, hiring a pilot, and setting a maintenance schedule.
In many large cities, state transportation departments and other agencies have installed series of traffic cameras along the Interstate highway system and other roads to monitor traffic conditions. Systems of this type can be easily seen along the I-95 corridor in the eastern section of the United States.
Broadcast reports on traffic conditions, usually heard on radio, became popular in large U.S. cities in the 1970s and quickly spread to other areas as population centers grew. As smaller urban areas became absorbed into larger metropolitan areas, particularly in the United States, the freeways became cluttered during the morning and afternoon rush.
Beginning in the late 1970s, and on into the 1980s and 1990s, competition between radio and television stations led many program and news directors to add traffic reports to their schedules, though many smaller stations could not afford a full-time traffic reporter or aircraft. This led to the expansion of traffic reporting companies, including Shadow Broadcast Services, Metro Networks, Trafficlink (acquired by INRIX), SmartRoute Systems, Traffic Patrol Broadcasting, and other regional traffic reporting agencies.
SmartRoute Systems was established in 1988 as an alternate traffic reporting service. They have been funded by government grants to provide traffic reports for local Departments of Transportation (DOT), but have also provided traffic reporting services for radio and television stations.
In 1998 Westwood One purchased Shadow Broadcast Services.
In 1997 and 1998 Metro Networks began buying many smaller traffic reporting agencies, as reported in their own financial statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. In 1999 Metro Networks acquired a firm called Copter Acquisition Company, from Westwood One. Westwood One then purchased Metro Networks, and Shadow Broadcast Services and Metro Networks were merged after that.
In 2000 Westwood One purchased SmartRoute Systems, and merged it with together with Metro Networks/Shadow Broadcast Services.
In 2004 Clear Channel Communications began producing on-air traffic reports for most of its own radio stations; it was done under the trademark of "Total Traffic Network". This was Clear Channel's response to Westwood One's acquisitions of Shadow Broadcast Services, Metro Networks, and SmartRoute Systems. Clear Channel had been receiving traffic reporting services from those companies up until then, and instead decided to do those services for its own radio stations. However, due to downsizing since 2004, Clear Channel has since changed its primary focus from on-air traffic reports to producing traffic information and data for use in in-car navigational devices; it still produces on-air traffic reports for most of its radio stations.
In 2005, Beat the Traffic entered the broadcasting industry with the release of Beat the Traffic 3D, a three-dimensional animated map displaying traffic flow, roadwork, and incidents. With over 60 partner TV stations using this technology to relate real-time traffic reports in 2012, it has become a major player in traffic reporting.
Traffic.com, also known as Navteq Traffic, Traffic Pulse and Mobility Technologies, is a United States nationwide provider of traffic information via a number of media, including the Internet, cell phones, radio, satellite radio and television.
In 2006 Reliant Broadcasting began operating independently from the larger traffic reporting services. Currently Reliant Broadcasting produces traffic reports for radio stations on both the east and west coasts of the United States.
In 2011 – INRIX acquired United Kingdom-based ITIS Holdings. Previously, ITIS Holdings had acquired Trafficlink, the company best known for providing traffic reporting services to the BBC and other UK-based radio stations.