01.10.20

SCHUMER SOUNDS ALARM ON GPS COMPANIES DRAGGING FEET ON IMPLEMENTING DATA VITAL TO MILLIONS OF NY DRIVERS & THE +5,000 NY RAIL CROSSINGS; WITH MANY DEATHS IN NY SINCE 2017, SENATOR SAYS COMPANIES MUST INCORPORATE DATA TO IMPROVE THE SAFETY OF ROADS & SAVE LIVES ASAP

In 2015, The National Transportation Safety Board Issued A Recommendation That GPS Companies Add Data On Public & Private At-Grade Rail Crossings To Applications Following A Tragic Crash In California; Since Then, Companies Are Unresponsive While Lives Have Tragically Been Lost

With Lives At Risk, Schumer Demands GPS Companies Quit Kicking The Can Down The Road And Add All 5,358 New York State At-Grade Crossings To Maps And Programs Immediately

Schumer To GPS: Stop Ignoring The Feds And Start Work To Save Precious Lives From Preventable Tragedies

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged leading technology companies that produce GPS applications to add data on all 5,358 New York State at-grade rail crossings into their programs without further delay.

Writing to the Chief  Executive Officers of the ten most common GPS manufacturers that still have yet to implement the changes, Schumer explained that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in 2016, recommended that these corporations, which include Google, INRIX, HERE Technologies, MapQuest, Omnitracs, OpenStreetMap US, Sensys Networks, Streetlight Data, Teletrac Navman, and United Parcel Service of America, include this information on at-grade rail crossings in their navigation systems, following a tragic accident in California that took the life of an engineer and injured 32 others. Since then, in New York State alone, between 2017 and 2019, there were 12 deaths and 44 injuries from at-grade rail crossing crashes. Schumer explained that without this critical information, everyone who travels New York State, via train or automobile, is put squarely in harm’s way, and argued that given the near-universal commuter dependence on navigation applications, the GPS companies must incorporate this critical geographic data into their apps with all due haste.

“In today’s world, the use of portable GPS is a daily necessity for Upstate New York drivers to travel to and from work, to see families, to recreate, to shop and to drive almost anywhere. However, without data on perilous at-grade rail crossings included in these GPS applications and maps, countless drivers are left to venture blind into perilous—and potentially fatal—situations,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why today I’m urging the leading providers of portable navigation systems, from MapQuest to Google, to immediately add all 5,358 New York at-grade rail crossings—both public and private—to their systems. Even one preventable death from such an accident is one too many, and with 12 in New York alone since the NTSB first issued this vital recommendation, there is no more time to waste.”

Schumer explained that in 2015, the NTSB investigated a fatal crash in Oxnard, California in which a train collided with a truck that had become lodged on the train track. The NTSB concluded that the driver, who was relying on a GPS application, misinterpreted the available audio and visual cues, causing him to turn onto the railroad tracks. Schumer said that at the time of the crash, lights and gates at the crossing were not active because no train was approaching at the time. Given those facts and details, NTSB recommended that navigation applications include grade crossing-related geographic data “to provide road users with additional safety cues and to reduce the likelihood of crashes at or near public or private grade crossings.”

Since the NTSB recommendation was issued, Schumer highlighted, there were 273 at-grade railroad crashes across the United States in 2017, the last year that data is available. Furthermore, in just New York State between 2017 and 2019, there were 12 deaths and 44 injuries from at-grade rail crossings. Schumer argued that as New York State and the entire country make every effort to move towards zero traffic fatalities, even one preventable death is unacceptable, let alone 12. Schumer said without these vital safety improvements, commuters, train operators and pedestrians will continue to be at risk as they travel on roads that intersect public and private grade crossings. In conclusion, Schumer urged the GPS companies to add all 5,358 at-grade crossings into maps and programs at once, to improve safety on New York State roads and highways and, inevitably, save precious lives.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the GPS providers appears below.

Dear Mr. Overbeek, Mr. Mistele, Mr. Pichai, Mr. McMahon, Mr. Greer, Ms. Wright, Mr. Haoui, Ms. Schewel, Mr. Nagda, and Mr. Abney:

I write today to express serious concern with the lack of significant progress in addressing the railroad safety recommendations sent to your companies by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 2016. Three years have gone by without your companies incorporating grade crossing-related geographic data into your Global Positioning System (GPS) applications. Each day that passes by consumers who rely on your navigation services for a safe commute remain in harm’s way. With over 5,358 railroad crossing across New York State and over three years of a delay in action by your company, it is with great concern that I urge you to update your navigation applications to include the grade crossings with all due speed.

As you may know, in February 2015 the NTSB investigated a fatal crash in Oxnard, California in which a train collided with a truck that had become lodged on the train track. The collision resulted in the death of the train engineer and injuries to 32 other individuals. The NTSB determined that the truck driver, who was relying on a navigation application, misinterpreted the available audio and visual cues causing him to turn onto the railroad tracks. At the time of the crash, lights and gates at the grade crossing were not active because no train was approaching. In response to the tragic incident, in December 2016 the NTSB wrote to your companies recommending that navigation applications include grade crossing-related geographic data “to provide road users with additional safety cues and to reduce the likelihood of crashes at or near public or private grade crossings”. After the NTSB guidelines were issued, there were 273 at-grade railroad crashes in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. Even in my home state of New York we saw 12 deaths and 44 injuries from at-grade rail crossing crashes between 2017 and 2019. Without these safety improvements, commuters, train operators, and pedestrians remain at risk as they travel on roads that intersect grade crossings.

Most troubling is that it appears that of the 14 companies addressed in the NTSB letter that still operate navigation systems, only three have taken action to implement all of the recommendations. While no amount of data can prevent all accidents, improving the warnings available to commuters may help reduce the chances for tragedy. Even one preventable death is unacceptable.  

Given the near universal commuter dependence on navigation applications and the severe public safety threat railroad accidents pose, I urge that you all work maximally to incorporate the grade crossing-related geographic data into your map apps.  

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

 

Sincerely,

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