Is our reliance on navigation apps getting out of hand? Just last weekend, Google Maps sent a hapless driver off a cliff and into a river in Bali after following a route that turned out to be for motorcycles only. Fortunately, the driver only suffered minor injuries.
However, some people have not been so lucky. In 2015, a woman died of severe burns in a car accident. The police concluded that the husband, who drove the car, was too focused on the GPS instructions that he failed to see the closed road signs.
Unfortunately, accidents caused by GPS devices and navigation apps have become far too common all over the world. In some places like in California, incidents like this even have a name: death by GPS.
Today, most of us have are quick to type a destination into the apps on our phones and take the their suggested routes for granted. When we’re behind the wheel it’s easy to blindly follow directions provided by these apps. Spoiled by the convenience, it's safe to assume that we think things like Google Maps or Waze are right all the time. But none of these apps are perfect, and their imperfections can be deadly to some.
Not only do they create potential potential safety hazard, they can also be very, very annoying. In the US, many neighbourhoods are experiencing increasing traffic volumes as navigation apps lead vehicles away from traffic-heavy areas into sleepy communities. What were once quiet residential areas have become shortcuts for commuters.
When Google Maps was launched in 2005, it started merely as a web app that would display a searchable, scrollable, zoomable map. Also, it’s worth noting that there were already several digital maps of its kind that have existed long before the idea of Google Maps came to be.
“It wasn’t the first out there, but the role of Google Maps in transforming digital maps, making them popular and bringing them from a tech niche into the public consciousness cannot be underplayed,” Gary Gale, the Ordnance Survey’s head of APIs told The Guardian a decade after Google Maps' launch.
Now, 13 years later, it has revolutionised our way of traveling. In addition to giving traffic updates, driving directions, turn-by-turn satellite navigation, the app also allows its users to list and recommend their favourite spots and activities to do. In 2013, Google Maps bought its biggest competitor, Waze.
According to a 2018 study by The Manifest, nearly 70 percent navigation app users choose Google Maps over others apps because it has an extensive data that allows it to offer better directions than most other GPS apps. This is hardly shocking, since Google is the world’s largest search engine. However, having a large database doesn’t mean that they’re always right. The truck driver in Bali can attest to that.
In Indonesia, where there are more motorcycles on the road than cars, a ban on using GPS while driving is being introduced. It’s still unclear whether the ban is applied to both car drivers or motorcyclists but if the main point of it is to avoid fatal accidents, perhaps we need it for both.
So, let's maybe start with not relying 100 percent on inevitably imperfect technology?
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.