If you've ever had to navigate a sketchy stretch of highway in the dead of winter, then you know the value of being able to read an up-to-date road report — before you hit the road.

511 Alberta is hoping to drastically improve its highway reports by allowing RCMP and the public to update traffic, weather and visibility on provincial highways through a mobile app.

"We all play a part in keeping Alberta's winter roads safe," said Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason in a release on Wednesday.

"By allowing citizens to report on our province's ever-changing road conditions we can help drivers make safe and better informed travel decisions that keep Albertans moving all year long," said Mason.

Before, 511 was updated by road maintenance contractors once a day, typically before 7 a.m., and then only again if there was a significant change in road conditions.

The Citizen Reporter is the first government-run mobile app in Canada that allows drivers update road conditions.

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The Citizen Reporter app can be downloaded on Android and iPhone.

Those who sign up have to take a tutorial and an online test to become registered and "capable" of reporting highway conditions, says Patrick Fitzhenry, manager of 511 Alberta operations.

"I'm a great believer in the principle that you don't have to be certified to competent but you must be competent to be certified."

Distracted driving considered

"The last thing we want is for people to pull over on the side on the road to update conditions. And we certainly don't want them to use the phone while they're driving," said Fitzhenry.

To comply with distracted driving legislation, the app has a feature built into it that gives drivers a two-hour window to report traffic conditions.

"Whether it's work, home or maybe Tim Hortons on the way — they can just pull out their app and update the conditions and indicate the time in which those conditions were observed."