Many tourists visit West Palm Beach, and it is common for these tourists to rely upon GPS devices to get around. Even locals use GPS mapping tools when they are going to unfamiliar places. Unfortunately, many people have become so reliant on these apps that they end up following them almost automatically. This can become a problem when an app takes a motorist to a dangerous place. If and when this happens, it becomes important to determine who is responsible for any injuries that occur.
New York Times reported recently about a tragic accident in which a truck was directed onto railroad tracks by a map app. The truck became stuck on the tracks and the driver abandoned the vehicle there. Unfortunately, a commuter train came upon the truck and a crash ensued, killing the train engineer and injuring another 32 people.
The truck crossing the railroad had gotten stuck on did not have grade separation, nor were there signs alerting drivers not to get onto the rails. Five car accidents so far have happened in the same area between 2008 and the present. It was dark when the man approached the crossing and he simply followed his app onto it. He was found a mile away from the area, and he claims he was trying to get help to deal with the situation. However, he has been charged with vehicular manslaughter.
In response to this accident, and to the risk similar accidents could happen at rail crossings, safety advocates are trying to get map app makers to add alerts for drivers when they are approaching a railroad crossing. The Federal Railroad Administration approached Apple, Microsoft, and 11 other tech companies to try to get them to include information on grade crossings.
Including warnings in apps may be especially important because evidence suggests many drivers end up ignoring road signs in favor of following directions on their app. If the directions on the app take them to dangerous places, the consequences can be deadly.
There have been cases where drivers and pedestrians have tried to hold GPS manufacturers or map app makers liable for bad directions which led to dangerous situations. In one case, Rosenberg v. Harwood, a pedestrian sued after being hit by a car when she used Google Maps on her Blackberry and followed instructions that led her to a highway. Google was able to get most of the claims dismissed because they had no specific relationship with the app user that created an obligation, and because to hold them accountable would have created virtually unlimited liability for Google.
Those who use apps need to be aware they cannot just stop paying attention and let the app tell them where to go. If a driver fails to use common sense and exercise reasonable caution, the driver can be held accountable for any resulting accidents.