Google is to start alerting drivers when they approach U.S. railroad crossings to help curb a rise in accidents.
“Grade” or “level” crossings are the points where a railway track intersects with a public or private road. Trains traverse more than 212,000 such crossings in the U.S. each day, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which led to around 270 deaths in 2014 — a 9 percent rise on the previous year.
Accidents are typically caused by human error, and with many railroad crossings there aren’t any barriers or lights between the road and the railway track, leaving it entirely up to the visual attentiveness of the driver to spot a road sign.
As such, the FRA has approached Google to include data from the agency’s database to ensure every crossing in the U.S. is included on Google Maps. This will include both visual and audio alerts when a driver is using turn-by-turn navigation mode, according to a report in the New York Times.
In addition to Google, which provides one of the most popular GPS-powered mapping apps on iOS and Android, the FRA has reportedly reached out to other mapping providers, including Apple, AOL-owned MapQuest, TomTom, and Garmin, with a view toward extending railroad crossing alerts to other devices and platforms.
Given the growing reliance on smartphones and other GPS-enabled devices for maps and navigation, some academics have suggested this is affecting the way people interact with the environment outside their cars. In effect, drivers are less likely to learn a route or familiarize themselves with a terrain, relying instead on the audio and visual cues emanating from their device.
While there is nothing to suggest that a shift in a person’s directional senses or location awareness has had any impact on the rise in accidents, issuing an extra reminder directly through a driver’s navigation device can only be a good thing. Indeed, Google has already integrated Public Alerts into its mapping system for a number of years, notifying you of any extreme weather events or other natural disasters on your planned route.
No timescale has been given for introducing the new railway crossing data to Google Maps, but according to the FRA, Google has “made the project a priority.”