GPS Fatal Distraction
GPS technology is one of the great conveniences of life in the 21st century. When it works right it enables us to find our way through unfamiliar areas with ease.
Other times it can lead us terribly astray.
But at all times we should follow the device directions by entering destination information while safely parked and use the “human override” of common sense is following the driving directions.
Today in Atlanta, we have a tragic example of the importance of keeping those principles in mind.
Police report that King Fareed from North Carolina was focused on his phone’s GPS directions when he got lost near the Atlanta airport, and made an improper U-turn into the path of an approaching motorcyclist coming the opposite direction on Sullivan Road in College Park. The motorcyclist, Jamel Houseworth, was killed, giving rise to a wrongful death claim for his survivors.
Having flown into a lot of cities, picked up rental cars and headed out into unfamiliar streets relying on GPS directions, I can well imagine the disembodied voice of the GPS saying to make a legal U-turn as soon as possible. The potential for unsafe distraction is huge.
According to a news report from WSB TV, police are charging Fareed is being charged with involuntary manslaughter, improper U-turn and failure to use due care in use of an electronic device.
The pertinent Georgia code sections are:
O.C.G.A § 40-6-393( c ):
Any person who causes the death of another person, without an intention to do so, by violating any provision of this title other than subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-163 [passing a school bus], subsection (b) of Code Section 40-6-270 [hit and run], Code Section 40-6-390 [reckless driving] or 40-6-391 [driving under influence of alcohol or drugs], or subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-395 [fleeing police officer] commits the offense of homicide by vehicle in the second degree when such violation is the cause of said death and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in Code Section 17-10-3 [up to $1,000 fine and 12 months in jail].
O.C.G.A § 40-6-121. U-turns, when prohibited
No vehicle shall be turned so as to proceed in the opposite direction:
(1) Upon any curve;
(2) Upon the approach to or near the crest of a grade where such vehicle cannot be seen by the driver of another vehicle approaching from either direction;
(3) Where such turn cannot be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic; or
(4) Where a prohibition is posted.
O.C.G.A § 40-6-241.1. Wireless telecommunications device use prohibited
(b)(1) No person who is 18 years of age or older or who has a Class C license shall operate a motor vehicle on any public road or highway of this state while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data.
(2) No person shall operate a commercial motor vehicle on any public road or highway of this state while:
(A) Holding a wireless telecommunications device to conduct a voice communication;
(B) Using more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication; or
(C) Reaching for a wireless telecommunications device in such a manner that requires the driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position properly restrained by a safety belt.
Here are some important safety tips for using a GPS in driving:
- Remember that driving safely job one. It is more important than navigation. Better to get off course and lose a little time than to make an unsafe movement that could cost a life.
- Be extra careful in familiarizing yourself with operation of the GPS unit. If using one with which you are not intimately familiar, take time to read product directions and get oriented to its operation while you are sitting still in the parking place before you even start to drive.
- Don’t program the GPS while the car is moving. Enter the destination before you start. If you need to cancel or change a destination, pull over and stop in a safe place to do it.
- Learn to use voice directions from the GPS. Make sure you have that working audibly before you start to drive. Only rarely should you glance at the GPS screen.
- Mount the GPS out of driving sight lines so that it will not block your view of the roadway.
- Use common sense to override GPS misdirection. If the GPS tells you to do down a one way street or the cart path of a golf course, go by what you see on the ground rather than what the electronic device tells you.
Ken Shigley is an Atlanta trial attorney focused on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases. He is currently chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Previously he served as president of the State Bar of Georgia and chair of the board of trustees of theInstitute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice and a board certified civil trial attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.