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The Phantom Highway

Via Education for the Driving Masses, a story of an outdated GPS being implicated in a fatal crash.

This came shortly after receiving this dispatch, from Germany, of another GPS-assisted crash.

One wonders if a new form of cognitive distraction needs to be explored — “GPS blindness.” As the graphics get better, the instructions more precise, the real-time traffic more real-time — and all of this becomes more integrated with the vehicle itself — will we yield more of our situational awareness to the machine itself? To quote my colleagues at the Invisible Gorilla, “If you devote all of your attention to the augmented roadway navigation aids, your “situation awareness” is reduced. That narrowing of attention helps explain how a driver could “blindly” follow the friendly, but flawed directions of their GPS onto a pedestrian walkway and into a cherry tree.” Which you can read about here.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, April 24th, 2010 at 1:23 pm and is filed under Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “The Phantom Highway”

  1. Steve Boyko Says:

    Just last night, my GPS wanted me to turn left at an intersection that was clearly marked as “no turning”. My wife was watching the GPS and urged me to turn, not realizing that it was illegal.

    In fact, I was at the scene of the fatal crash mentioned above, several months ago, and my GPS showed me driving through a field.

    A GPS is great but no substitute for looking out the windows.

  2. Ben Says:

    NY is having a lot of problems with GPS systems leading Commercial drivers onto parkways. As I’m sure you are aware, the parkways in NY have low bridges and trucks are not permitted. There was an article on RyePatch:
    http://rye.patch.com/articles/fixing-truck-strikes-may-cost-big-bucks

    about the Hutchinson River Parkway’s King Street Bridge in Rye Brook, NY on the NY-CT border.

    “The King Street Bridge in Rye Brook, for instance, which is under the jurisdiction of the county, is actually the most struck of any bridge in the state. It has already had three bridge strikes in 2010 and had nine strikes in 2009.

    In 2009, the county police – who patrol the Hutchinson River Parkway, Bronx River Parkway, Saw Mill River Parkway and the Cross County Parkway – dealt with 54 bridge strikes, in 2008 they dealt with 46, nearly one bridge strike a week.”

    Pretty good article.

    On another note, Tom, I really enjoyed Traffic…in fact, I read it twice. I am a college student in upstate NY and I am an Environmental Science and Policy major. In a few years, I plan on going to grad school and hope to work in urban planning or something in transportation. If you have any advice or guidance, let me know! I would love to maybe have you talk at my college or just talk one-on-one.

  3. Josh R Says:

    Many of the newer city buses I ride to work are equipped with GPS systems that are set to announce the upcoming stop so the driver doesn’t have to. They work fine until we get downtown and into the thick of the 30+ story buildings, whereupon the system gets confused as to it’s location and starts announcing stops too early. (So when we’re approaching the 4th street stop, the voice is saying that we’re coming up to the 5th street stop.)

    I can’t help but think that a car GPS would be similarly confused under the same conditions, and considering that our downtown has alternating one-way streets, one block off can mean turning directly into oncoming traffic.

    I think I’ll continue to look at a map before setting out, and then rely on my MK 1 eyeballs to find my destination.

  4. Nick Says:

    I own a farm in a semi-rural area, and a couple of years ago Tele-Atlas, the company that supplies the mapping information for many GPS devices and to Google Maps, incorrectly started showing that my driveway was a road that connected to the next town over. Since then, every summer I get a stream of drivers who come down my driveway, drive around for a while, and leave. If I’m there when someone pulls in I’ll try to politely but firmly tell them that a) they’re not going where they think they’re going and b) it’s not a road, it’s my driveway. Most people will argue with me! Some get quite belligerent.

    For a while I tried gating the driveway but my gate got driven through. Twice.

    I’ve reported the problem to Tele Atlas but they have been no help.

  5. Jan Says:

    Nick, I have a similar experience with Tele Atlas.
    I reported a “missing link” months ago, but their maps still seem pretty sure that I have to walk or bike a couple of hundred extra yards to get into my village…

  6. Michael Burke Says:

    As if you weren’t blind enough using a GPS, how about a new app for your iphone that makes it “easier” for you to walk (or drive) and text at the same time. I came an app for iphones called Type n Walk, by CGactive, LLC. The app uses the camera to give you a picture on your screen of what is ahead of you while you text. So, you have the illusion of knowing being safer as you walk, into traffic, not seeing the car to your right. Or better yet, it give you the illusion that you might be able to text and drive, all warnings aside of course. The Apple App’s store has an option to protest, ie is this offensive. I said YES and I encourage others to object as well.

  7. Cindy Smith from Education for the Driving Masses Says:

    I just learned something new. Thank you. I always had my doubts about GPS devices and it’s interesting to see it proven that they can lead to a lack of situation-awareness.

  8. Rasmus Jensen Says:

    Last night, my partner and I were driving from Denmark on our way to Calais and while we passed Eindhoven we passed some roadworks on the motorway, trusted the GPS while ignoring the signs and drove left where we should have gone right. As the roadworks had removed some junctions we had to drive several miles more than the GPS suggested in order to turn around, only to find that we did not end up on the right motorway and now had no clue as to where we were or how to get to Calais.

    During our roundtrip on the junctions and motorways, I noticed that a lorry was following us and most likely also lost.

    In the end, we asked a local man that could guide us back to the motorway so we could proceed to Calais.

    Rasmus Jensen

  9. Joseph Doughty Says:

    Perhaps a bit of “blind faith” on both the driver and GPS systems part.

    “In computer programming blind faith (also known as blind programming or blind coding) is a situation whereby a programmer develops a solution or fixes a computer bug and deploys it without ever testing his creation. The programmer in this situation has blind faith in his own abilities, but this often results in catastrophic failure.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_faith_%28computer_science%29

    In the end the driver is responsible. Even airplane pilots, who must learn to trust their instruments, do not discount visual cues to operation (most of the time).

    I’m enjoying your book, thanks Tom.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

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Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
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June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
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June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
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July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
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Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
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California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
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Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
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Yale University
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Yale University School of Architecture
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University of Delaware
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International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
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Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
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Fondo de Prevención Vial
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Royal Automobile Club
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Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
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Rutgers University
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Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
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California Association of Cities
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American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
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Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

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Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
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April 17, 2012
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January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
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January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

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Australian Road Summit
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New York State Association of
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Rochester, NY

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BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
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September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
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