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Google, Apple, Microsoft reportedly ignoring safety pleas to add rail crossings to maps

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Hundreds of people die in collisions at rail crossings every year

OXNARD, CA FEBRUARY 125, 2015 - A metro link train moves through the Rice Avenue crossing Wednesday Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other tech companies have ignored recommendations from federal safety authorities to add rail crossings to their respective digital maps, according to a report in Politico. The initial request was made in 2016, after a commuter train crashed into a truck in California, killing an engineer and injuring dozens. But in the years since, the big map providers have failed to take action, the report states.

The inaction by tech companies is angering safety advocates, who note hundreds of people die in collisions at rail crossings every year in the US. Those crossings could be made less dangerous if drivers could see them on the digital maps and GPS services they increasingly rely on to navigate the roads every day.

The crash that spurred the call for action took place February 24th, 2015, when an Amtrak train smashed into a truck in Oxnard, California. The train derailed, killing the engineer and injuring 32 passengers. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the truck driver mistakenly turned onto the railroad’s right-of-way “due to acute fatigue and unfamiliarity with the area.”

As a result, the NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the big tech companies, as well as other map and GPS providers like TomTom, Inrix, Garmin, MapQuest, Omnitracs, and UPS. The agency directed these companies to “[i]ncorporate grade crossing-related geographic data, such as those currently being prepared by the Federal Railroad Administration, into your navigation applications to provide road users with additional safety cues and to reduce the likelihood of crashes at or near public or private grade crossings.”

But since then, very few have taken up the recommendation. Spokespeople for Apple, Google, and Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a 2017 reply to the original request, Google said it worried about overwhelming its users with too much information.

“Our product teams carefully consider new safety features in the context of the holistic product experience and, in that way, seek to avoid evaluating individual features in isolation that could lead to overcrowding and create a sub-optimal experience for users,” the company wrote.

The only other company to reply to NTSB’s request, Dutch mapping firm TomTom, noted that it has included rail crossings in its maps for over a decade.