[tl:gallery size=440×353]

Even if you know the route to a particular destination, Google Maps is a great to check on whether or not it’s the best one, thanks to a couple of recent updates.

Real-time traffic data is now available for major cities across the UK and Europe, which means its possible to see congestion on major and minor roads before setting off on a journey.

[tl:gallery size=383×238]

The feature is enabled by turning on the Traffic layer that’s available from the menu at the top-right of the Google Maps page. Real-time traffic data then appears as coloured lines on roads, on a scale from green (fast) to red (slow).

[tl:gallery size=347×207]

Google Maps also retains historical traffic data and can use it to predict levels of congestion at other times. Click the “Live traffic” link at the bottom-left of the page and both the day and time can be altered, which is useful for seeing what Sunday evening traffic might be for the journey home after a weekend away, for example.

[tl:gallery size=347×207]

Better still, traffic data is also now taken into account when planning a route with Google Maps, with the actual expected journey time shown alongside the ideal one. This makes it possible to see at a glance which route is the quickest when there are two or more viable alternatives.

[Google Lat Long blog]