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Bus Accident Blamed on Driver's GPS Distraction

Mike Musgrove

Well, it might have only been a matter of time before something like this happened, thanks to the soaring popularity of those handy GPS devices.

A charter-bus drive in Washington state ran into a pedestrian bridge last week. Seems that the driver was paying attention to his GPS device -- and not to some warning signs on the road.

The accident sent 21 of his passengers, a high school softball team, to the hospital though it appears that nobody was seriously hurt.

Know any tales of GPS dependency causing accidents or otherwise causing unsound driving behavior? Please drop me a line or post away...

By Mike Musgrove  |  April 23, 2008; 2:45 PM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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Tracked on May 28, 2008 1:26 PM


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The upside of a GPS unit is that it helps you out with where you're going. The downside is that they encourage 2 things: First, they encourage you to shut your brain off and just follow directions. So you sacrifice your capacity to actually remember routes. Second, a talking unit encourages everyone in the car riding along to chime in on navigating. "Oh, did it just say to go left?" says Passenger 1. "It said to go left!" says Passenger 2. "Oh, is that this left or the next left?" says Passenger 3. So it encourages backseat driving, which does not encourage nicer relations with your in-laws.

Posted by: Cap'n Sora | April 23, 2008 4:54 PM

Cap'n Sora makes correct observations, but I'd add that, in many instances, the driver takes his/her eyes off the road to watch the GPS, and you're taking your concentration off the road because you're listening (not to something in the background but) to "someone" telling you to do things. There's a difference between background music and getting direction/instructions you're supposed to follow. Unfortunately too much driving is done in close proximity, narrow streets, tight circumstances, and any distraction from what you're supposed to be doing - driving - can result in either an accident you're involved in, or an accident (or near accident) that you cause but aren't, yourself, part of (and might be oblivious to).

Posted by: Washington DC driver | April 23, 2008 6:21 PM

I would bet that the benefits of GPS outweigh the occaisional distraction, when you consider the alternatives. Watching/listening to the GPS is preferable to reading a map or printed directions while you are driving. And having GPS is preferable to aimlessly driving not knowing where you are going. I find when I am intensely trying to figure out where I am going, I become less cognizant of the other cars around me and a little sloppy driving. GPS overall allows me to focus on the cars around me, instead of desperately searching for the name of the street sign where I am supposed to turn if I have printed or handwritten directions.

Posted by: Cliff | April 23, 2008 6:36 PM

Can you say "distracted driver"?

Posted by: Billy | April 23, 2008 7:11 PM

It wasn't the GPS who caused the wreck, it was the driver.

Posted by: Ed | April 23, 2008 7:26 PM

There was the time my mother was driving us to Sts. John and Paul elementary. I was in fourth grade, Eugene was in third and Robert in fifth. As per usual, my mother took-out her home-perm hair curlers as she was driving (she was always a careful driver). Sometimes, Eddy Tobin and Richard Berlanti rode along with us because Mrs. Berlanti was always in the habit of "sleeping late." Anyway, in Larchmont, the roads are hilly and winding and everything. So, anyway Blackie, my dog (he was in the car, too) (we were inseparable) saw those two old ladies,' who live across the street from the Tobin's, cat in Mrs. Tobin's front yard (they (the two old ladies) were Hungarian and raked their leaves with a broom) and he jumped, excitedly, over to mom's window, to get a better look at the cat, you know? And, when he did, he put his paws on the steering wheel and steered us into the Kerrigan's side yard. And the Kerrigan's have a stream running through their yard, because houses in Larchmont have yards like that. So, the car "tumbled" through the rocks on the banks of the stream and the sudden jolting must have caused my mother to bear down on the accelerator and she lost all control of the steering, of course; so we went right onto their tennis court. My father paid for the damage, of course, but Mr. Kerrigan was angry with him and intimated that the court was never going to be the same, even after the repairs; and my dad said, under his breath, of course, that his kids should stick to football because they sure couldn't play a decent game of tennis. The ironic thing was that we didn't play tennis at Stepinac later on, so we never got to see who were the better players, them or us. My brother (Robert) and I ran track, but it was really the two McDermott boys who were good at cross-country because, my mother said, they were so homely that they didn't have a social life and this distracted them. One of them went on and majored in Latin at Notre Dame. Now, that was a kiss of death.

Posted by: Paul Leddy | April 23, 2008 7:38 PM

I was on a business trip in Holland two weeks ago. The guy who was driving us around relied on his car's GPS unit, which steered us wrong at least once or twice per day and wasted a lot of time. I wish he had planned out his routes ahead of time. And I got pretty sick of the GPS system's voice.

Posted by: William | April 23, 2008 9:04 PM

Did you wear onions on your belts in those days?

Posted by: wiredog | April 24, 2008 8:40 AM

From the BBC,

"Sat-nav takes cabbie into river

A driver, stranded after he drove into a river, said his sat-nav system guided him in there.

The mini-bus driver was on his way to collect a fare in Castle Acre, near King's Lynn, Norfolk, when he took a wrong turn into the River Nar.

Pat Bowles, from Streamline Taxis, said: "Normal people would stop and back out but because his sat-nav told him to keep going that's what he did.

"I don't think he did think until he couldn't go any further."

The incident happened as the driver was following his sat-nav on Saturday.

Ms Bowles said it had given the driver's colleagues plenty of amusement: "He's had taxi drivers going into the office with snorkels on.

"We've also had phones calls, texts coming through asking if they can book river trips."


Posted by: wiredog | April 24, 2008 8:59 AM

A few weeks ago I turned down a rural road that was there according to my GPS, Mapquest and Google maps. (I *HAD* planned my route in advance and was vaguely familiar with the area.)

The road promptly ended into a field of mud. I noticed someone in the yard on the corner so I got out and asked about the road for which I was looking.

The guy at the house told me the road had not been there in decades (it was closed and removed because the houses back there were now in a gated community so I had to backtrack a half-mile or so and go through the security entrance).

During our conversation he mentioned that the only people who ever look for that road are using an Internet map or GPS! :-)

Posted by: Kerry | April 25, 2008 11:32 AM

NRA will tell you that it wasn't the GPS' fault. You know, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Well, "GPS didn't crash the bus, the person driving the bus crashed the bus."

Like Verizon will tell you, "The cellphone didn't cause the person to plow through the pedestrians, the person driving the car plowed through the pedestrians."

Or my shop teacher, "The machine didn't cut off your finger, you cut off your finger."

Posted by: Jarrod | April 25, 2008 3:48 PM

I say, if you're that easily distracted by a GPS, then don't use it. I rely heavily upon my own unit when I'm in an area I'm unfamiliar with and if I take a wrong turn somewhere I know I'll find my way there sooner than if I'd turned it off and tried on my own. Obviously, this driver either let himself get too confused by it or he was trying to over-analyze it. Seriously, if you spend the money to get it and you update the maps at least once in your lifetime, then use it and trust it like you would a paper map - otherwise just toss it out the window...unless you're THAT afraid of causing a wreck with the bloody thing.

Posted by: Gregory | April 26, 2008 10:18 AM

It seems silly to blame the accident on the driver's use of GPS. First, if he was unfamiliar with the area, he would either be listening to GPS or looking down at his map or printed directions. In my experience, the time for the latter two activities, and the potential for distraction, is much greater than with GPS. Second, a GPS isn't an excuse to check your brain at the door. I've had experiences where my unit has directed me to a now closed off ramp or a one way street in the wrong direction, but it quickly corrects itself and adjusts for a new route. Like most tools, a GPS system has to be used correctly.

Posted by: mikew | April 30, 2008 10:31 AM

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