Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When Will We Stop Blaming the Driver?

I have been associated with the geospatial technology since 1985. I believe in the technology and its vast potential. However, I have become increasingly disappointed with what appears to be growing trend - within the blogosphere at least - to instinctively blame a driver whenever he or she gets lost or injured using a satnav device. I first noticed this trend when a couple got stuck on a logging road in Oregon in wintertime. A number of blog posts suggested that the couple should have known that their GPS device was imperfect and brought a map along as back-up. I said at the time that expecting a consumer to bring a map because their GPS device might fail is like expecting me to throw my bike in the trunk of my car when I go for a drive because the car might break down. Consumers expect that products they purchase will work. (So do jurors!) Particularly when commercials repeatedly tell them they should buy the device because it will get them to where they want to go quicker, safer and cheaper.

The issue arose again this week as a man drowned in Spain reportedly because his satnav device mistakenly took him down a road at night that led into a lake and he was not able to stop quick enough. I have seen more than a few comments suggesting that the driver lacked "common sense". However, there is nothing in the reports that I read that suggested the driver lacked common sense in this instance. Moreover, who of us hasn't taken the wrong turn and driven for a while trying to figure out whether they made a mistake (or how to fix it)? In addition, I know that the reaction time of my parents, who are both in the early 70's, is slower than it used to be - particularly when a lake suddenly appears in the middle of the road!! My guess is that they are not alone.

I don't think it is fair to instinctively blame the driver in an accident due at least in part to an error or malfunction in a satnav device. More importantly, I also believe it is bad business. If a customer is injured due to an error in a satnav device, a better response - from both a legal and business standpoint - would be to try and understand what went wrong and identify ways to make the product better and safer. History has shown that the companies that take this approach are better off in the long run.