Google to alert drivers to railroad crossings using US data

29 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Maps to List Every Railroad Crossing in the US.

Register now for the 8th annual MobileBeat, July 13-14, where the best and brightest will be exploring the latest strategies and tactics in the mobile space. “Grade” or “level” crossings are the points where a railway track intersects with a public or private road. It’s become much more than that, and it was always designed to be something multi-platform, and had been available on the web for some time before that. In March, dozens of passengers were injured when an Amtrak train that had originated in Charlotte derailed after hitting a truck at a crossing in Halifax, which is just south of the Virginia state line.

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. It’s available on iPhones, all Android devices and on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, which is why it’s encouraging to see Google adding this next new feature. 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.

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.

This isn’t likely to solve the problem overnight, but considering that many of us use Google Maps to scope out a route, tell us which turn to take and when, it’s good to see this feature finally being added. 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.”

Raising awareness about anything like this is a great move, and while Android users like ourselves will be happy to this feature head to our smartphones and tablets, it’s generally a good move that all map apps and services will get this vital information sooner, rather than later. It does make you wonder why these crossing weren’t already marked in these apps, but raising awareness through partnerships like these should right this wrong.

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