by Al Sacco

Why GPS is No Replacement for Eyes and Ears (Or How to Find Yourself With a $100,000 Bill by Following a GPS Navigator)

Jan 07, 2008 2 mins
Enterprise Applications

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the past writing about both the promise and perils of Global Positioning System technology, but I never imagined that using a GPS navigator could end up costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars and a rental car.

I bet the computer consultant who followed GPS directions onto railroad tracks in front of a speeding train last week hadn’t considered as much either. After following an instruction to take a right hand turn in Bedford Hills, N.Y., this unlucky road warrior found himself—and his rental car–stuck on the tracks at a crossing, according to the Associated Press. He was quick enough to get out of his vehicle in time to save his life, but flailing his arms did nothing to stop the locomotive, which crashed into the car at 60 miles an hour and sent the blazing hunk of steel 100 feet down the tracks.

About 500 passengers were forced to sit aboard the stopped train for two hours during rush hour last Wednesday, but thankfully nobody was injured.

The accident did, however, cause damage to 250 feet of rail. The man was issued a minor summons for obstructing a railroad crossing, and he and the rental company are responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

Chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga, boo-hoo!

I don’t really understand how this guy pulled in front of a train, as most of the railroad crossings I’m familiar with are blocked off by automatic arms covered in blinking lights and the trains themselves emit eardrum-piercing howls at such locales, but who knows? To be fair, the AP article does say the car got caught on the tracks so perhaps the man turned onto them long before the train arrived.

Either way, there are two lessons to be learned here: 1) Never rely solely on your GPS navigation system when cruising around in unfamiliar locations, and 2) always pay the extra cash for rental car insurance.


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