When In Doubt, Blame It On Technology

from the it-wasn't-my-fault dept

There seems to be a growing trend in the UK of people suspending their common sense when they get in a car and turn on GPS navigation units. There are people driving off cliffs and through flooded roads and taking detours that span half of England, apparently at the behest of their navigation units. Things got so bad in one place that authorities even had to put up “ignore your sat nav” signs. Now, a woman’s car got hit by a train, and for some reason, she’s blaming a GPS navigation unit. She says the device led her “right into the path of a speeding train”: she was driving to her boyfriend’s house, using the GPS for directions, when she came up to a metal gate with a red circle on it, marked with a “little sign saying, if the light is green, open the gates and drive through.” She doesn’t say whether or not the light was green, just that she opened the gate, drove through, got out to shut the gate and heard a train coming, then she realized she was standing on a train crossing. She got out of the way, but the train hit her car and carried it for half a mile. She says she “can’t completely blame” the GPS unit — but it’s not clear why the GPS is to blame at all. First, you’d imagine that one would be cognizant enough of their surroundings to realize when they were at a railroad crossing. Second, if it wasn’t obvious enough, isn’t the problem really inadequate signage or a lack of other safety equipment? Of course, it’s easier to put the blame on the GPS, since it can only answer back by saying, “Left turn in 400 yards,” rather than own up to your own fault.

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Comments on “When In Doubt, Blame It On Technology”

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IronChef says:

"The SatNav device drives my car... Not me"

I ran into this once as well. The problem is that the source for the GeoData polygons(in the US- TIGER) is a Census function and only generated once every few years..

SatNav is really just an automated map, and like any good map, should be replaced whenever a new update comes out…

But the driver still is ultimately in control of the car. (duh) O

UDrive says:

Re: "The SatNav device drives my car... Not me"

In the US the data is NOT TIGER data from the Census Bureau. The TIGER data is completely unsuited for SatNAv as it is not positionally accurate nor does it contain turn restrictions information.
It is supplied by NAVTEQ or Tele Atlas who supply the maps for the European SatNav applications as well.

|333173|3|_||3 says:

Metres and Yards

Road signs are required constitutionally to be marked in yards and miles. THis is one of the few exceptions to the EU-wide use of the metric system, ont of hte others beig the sale of beer in the UK by Imperial pint, which is required by the Magna Carta.

Anyone who cannot identify a railway line as such sould not be driving a car. The marking of a red spot on the gate is used as a warning, and the warning light, if present, should have been more than sufficent warning. If it was an unsingalled crossing, there was almost certainly a telephone by the gate, which she could have used to check for approaching trains (I am fairly sure that in the absence of a manually-controlled crossing, there has to be a telephone to contact the responsible signal box. This should be present on all public railway crossings, from AHB (automaic half barrier) crossings to ungated rural lanes. Only private occupation crossings, which are provided for landowners to have access accross the line, would not need one, but sicne at occupation crossings the gate opens away from the line and is on a private driveway or farm track, she should not have been on it.

Well, if you’re stupid enough to ask for directions between two places not linked by land, if there is no ferry, what can it do?

Kitobor says:


Do people blame the map when they take a wrong turn? No.

Do they blame the computer when their data gets deleted? Yes.

This is just a case of people blaming elec-trickery and assuming that a GPS system is somehow different to a map.
It is not infallible because it is a machine.

If the GPS tells you to turn left you still check that it is safe to turn, that the road actually exists, that a fallen tree has not blocked your path etc….

Stupid humans.

Bobshaker says:

People really don’t drive cliffs do they? I hope for the sake of this planet that there aren’t people who have done that. Anonymous, I checked Google Maps and it DOES tell you to swim across the Atlantic. I couldn’t stop laughing for a whole minute. I got this picture of Forrest Gump running up to the Ocean, jumping in and swimming to Europe in my head.

JB says:

Re: Bobshaker

See, I actually hope they DO drive off the cliffs for the sake of the planet. ๐Ÿ˜› In fact, it should be part of a driver’s exam. Set them up in a car with GPS that instructs the driver to drive off a cliff and see if they do it. It’s like cleaning leaves out of the gene pool.

Lonny Paul (profile) says:

Technology Dependence Still Requires Common Sense

I am not surprised whatsoever that this fatalities are happening in the UK — probably the world over — as people rely more on GPS devices. People I know use them in areas where they are well aware where they are going – why?

Technology is an aid. Do not make it a crutch.

(But my Treo didn’t tell me it was time…)

darkdancer says:

recently in the uk

a woman drove her brand new merc into a river. This was widely reported in the national newspapers as a SatNav fault. But the thing is… she drove down a single lane dirt farm track that was clearly sign posted as a No Through Road. What was going thru her head? ‘This road’s a bit narrow’? ‘These brambles are taking all the paint off’? ‘ Oh f**k it’s a river’? !!!

Justine says:

Printed Data Can Be Wrong Too

We’ve had problems in California with printed maps, specifically freeway overpasses and bridges with heights that were incorrectly measured or recorded. Oops. I remember in one instance the trucker involved proved that he’d relied on state-funded road data, and it wasn’t his fault that the truck got stuck under an overpass that hadn’t been measured right in the first place.

Gollux says:

Loss of intelligence, technology induced?

We recently had a rash of stupidity here. Some trucking concern decided that Redwood Highway through Smith River Canyon was unable to handle their 53′ trailers and their dispatchers started sending them up through Bear Camp Road, a one lane US Forest Service/BLM, not necessarily well paved road in adverse terrain with greater than 6% grades and a climb to over 4500 ft elevation to reach Highway 101. And the curves are even more horrific than the one truck buster curve in Smith River Canyon. There has been a total loss of any thinking abilities in the general human population. A good quantity of bleach needs to be dumped into the gene pool soon or we’ll all die of stupidity soon.

by the tail says:

Re: Loss of intelligence, technology induced?

There has been a rash trucking errors on US129 between TN and NC… better known as the tail of the dragon. 318 curves in 11 miles, plus a lot of up and downs to high side to boot.

Nav software been routing trucks over it since it is a “highway”, and there are NOT many good east-west roads in area.


Simon Farnsworth (user link) says:

There's a photo of the crossing available

For people wondering whether it’s likely to be a badly signposted crossing, this is a picture of the crossing, taken from the direction she approached from. You will notice that there’s even a sign telling you how to operate the crossing, just in case you’ve forgotten what you were taught when you learnt to drive.

Matthew says:

Too many signs

Ok, now I see the green traffic light thing. That’s a lot of stuff to read on a lot of different signs. However, I suppose you are taught how to deal with them when the time comes.

I suppose I’m spoiled by our automatic gates for train crossing here in USA, but that doesn’t seem like a real good system.

NA (user link) says:


How the heck was a GPS unit supposed to know anything about a train? GPS can only help you navigate, the driver is still responsible for *driving*.

Also, if you have to cross rail tracks, never stop *ON* the tracks for any reason. If you cant confirm that the way on the other side isnt completely clear for you to drive fully across and clear of the tracks, dont start onto them in the first place.

In this case, if there were gates on both sides, a good idea would have been to open *both* gates, drive the car fully across (keeping an eye and ear aware of any trains), then go back and close both. Having mechanical gates that average members of the community are supposed to get out and open to cross rail tracks seems a bit of an odd situation to begin with – if it was a public crossing, it should have had automatic gates, of it wasnt, they should have been locked to prevent them being opened except by authorized persons.

G says:

At what point will this tech be rreliable?

Sure it’s easy to blame the driver. But, how many of you will end up in an unknown city, at night, in the rain and REALLY need a reliable source of directions. Or, as many small cities are now doing – emergencies response is directed by GPS. Recently a police officer pulled up next to me in my neighborhood and said they had an emergency Onstar call to where I was standing, at a street I had never heard of. Who is responsible? At what point is a manufacturer responsible for their products? When a plane falls out of the sky due to faulty directions? I think this will be an area of a lot of lawsuits in the future.

John Brace (user link) says:

Satellite Navigation

As a cyclist, I have to rely on maps or memorise the route before I set out.

Perhaps if people still practised such elementary skills or the stopping to ask for directions, they’d also be better at driving.

I realise we always want to find shorter/quicker routes to places, but it’s easier doing that on a map! There are signs on roads too. *sighs*

My advice to this woman is get a bike – however there have been a number of accidents like this (vehicles at level crossings). Most of these types of level crossing (where the barrier doesn’t lock down when a train is coming) are in the type of rural location this happened in.

She had a narrow (and incredibly lucky) escape.

the amazing me says:

Re: Satellite Navigation

That’s funny because I know of GPS systems that are suitable for a bike.

I assume you meant because I’m not an idiot I am able to read a map…

Let’s face it there is unfortunately no cure for idiocy. I suspect this may have been the first time she’d come across such a crossing type and was incapable of thinking for herself – because you’re not allowed to now as a child (too many chances of someone getting sued).

I think I’ll stick to maps and using my eyes thanks.

|333173|3|_||3 says:

Few points

THis was a public crossing, but on such a minor road that it was hardly worth fitting Automatic barriers to the crosing. I am sure most locals, who actually have to use the crossing, would far rather have a manual gated crossing than no crossing a t all, because it seems unlikely that anyone would pay for a track circuit controlled set of barriers. On such a small road, half barriers could not befitted, because they are required to allow a trapped driver to escape in ther car, and so a manually controlled, video supervsed crossing would need to be used. The cost for such a crossing would be prohibitave, and so if ther were to be a fuss made and these crossings banned, tehy would simply be fenced off, not upgraded.

These crossings are common becuase of the number of minor roads and footpaths which are legally required to be kept open, and the number of minor railway lines which have survived into the present day (too few, but there are some), for which it would be uneconomical to provide automatic crossings.

I think we have now firmly established that he crossing was well signed, and that the UK uses yards, not metres. There is no more need to post these points.

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