How I managed to hit the jackpot this morning (or, how Google Maps can kill you, while it can also save millions of lives)

I passed my driving license exams three days after turning 18; actually, having grown up in a rural area, I had learned driving long enough before that age.

Since then, a very conservative calculation results to having driven much more than 400,000 km, which equals to many more than 16,500 hours of driving (actual figures are likely to be significantly higher).

Based on this I think I can reasonably argue that I’m a really experienced driver. Not only that, but I also just love driving. If there’s a reasonable way to go driving from one place to another (say from Athens to Thessaloniki, or from New York to Boston, etc), I’ll always prefer to go driving.

In a few words, I have always thought of myself as a good driver; or a very good one, to be more accurate. Evidence just made available though suggest that I might have been completely wrong.

Here’s what happened this morning:

It all started yesterday, as I stayed awake till late.

This business partner of mine, Peter, called me at 8:45am and woke me up.

"You must be at the courtroom by 9am", he said, reminding me of a business case which I had completely forgotten.

"Coming as soon as possible", I replied.

I drove through Kifisias Ave in Athens; traffic was just terrible, the avenue resembled to a huge parking.

I checked Google Maps on my smartphone. Uncle Google advised me to drive via Palio Psychiko suburb, as that route was saving eight minutes versus the Kifisias Ave.

Peter kept calling every other minute "For God’s sake, where are you?", he was saying.

"I’ll be there in a minute", was my constant response.

The same thing happened again. And again. And again. And again. Until…

… I was in the Palio Psychiko suburb, trying to find the fastest way to the Evelpidon str courts. Kept looking at Google Maps on my smartphone, while driving - faster than I should - in a "U" shaped, seemingly empty street.

I knew that I should make a right turn somewhere near there. Then I heard a sharp noise by a car apparently breaking desperately.

I turned my head left and saw a car moving very fast, one meter away from the driver’s door. A moment later we crashed. Big noise and shaking.

I had made a terrible, unforgivable, incredibly irresponsible mistake. Never saw that big "STOP" sign, as I was again looking at my Google Maps, on my smartphone.

Thank God, nobody was hurt.

Both cars suffered heavy damage, but no injuries at all.

Then, I thought, what if instead of this Smart car, there was a cyclist or a motorbike? I’d have killed them. As you might know, I often cycle myself, so this thought was particularly inconvenient.

Also, what if instead of the tiny Smart, there was a huge truck? I’d most likely have been killed.

Was it worth of driving like crazy, in a hopeless effort to catch that appointment at the court? Absolutely no.

Since the crash moment, I try to process what exactly happened, and I find it incredibly difficult. How on earth have I been able to be so criminally irresponsible? How can I ever have done such a grave mistake?

Well, there’s a good reason: I was there, but I was not present. Instead of having my full attention to driving, making sure that I shall arrive to my destination safe and sound, I was stressed and angry because of unnecessarily suffering such a bureaucratic inconvenience (there was no real reason for me to be at the courtroom, other than stating ‘present’ and acknowledging my authorization to the joint-venture’s attorney).

Anyhow,

I was blessed to be given a second chance. I consider this second chance an incredibly better luck than hitting the jackpot. This morning I could have very easily either lost my own life, or, I could have killed two innocent people — a catastrophic event which would evaporate all of my appetite and energy to stay alive.

I’ll try to greatly respect and appreciate this second chance, as much as I can. I’ll try to be always present, both while driving and anywhere else.

May I humbly advise you All to do the same. It’s so stupid to create so terrible suffering to innocent people just because of pure stupidity - like I almost did today.

Both cars were moving with approximately 60 kph. Just imagine.

And last but not least, let us All be aware that our own lives may end completely unexpectedly. Let’s then All make sure that we’re aware of this fact and, as much as we can, let’s just be good to people.

A final remark — I got a very practical lesson learned, which I’ll turn to a promise: I shall never, and I mean never, touch my smartphone again while driving.

— — —

Now, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve tried to emphasize that using Google Maps on my smartphone while driving was the primary cause of this car accident.

While I haven’t looked at the statistics, I have a feeling that most likely my case was far from unique. Numerous people use Google Maps on their smartphone to get help with navigation and, very sadly, they also do it while they drive. As demonstrated by my own experience, this can be disastrous.

The problem doesn’t then have to do with Google Maps per se, but with using this otherwise awesome service on your smartphone while driving.

Unfortunately though, there’s just so many of us who are stupid enough to do so, meaning that numerous car accidents happen daily around the world just for this reason — which in turn means that quite a few people lose their life on a daily basis. It’s just impossible to comprehend.

Even worse, I was told by the workshop personnel who took care of my car that they’ve made the following quite worrying observation: As more and more modern cars have larger infotainment screens, it seems that more and more accidents are actually caused by the disturbance which this screens cause to the drivers — much as they’re supposed to help them.

Technology and cars has brought us to a very sloppy road; in my humble opinion there’s no other way than trying to accelerate the evolution. I’m pretty sure that even with today’s technology, self-driving autonomous cars are several orders of magnitude safer than human drivers. Let’s hope that vendors, regulators and consumers will just acknowledge this evident reality and autonomous cars will be widely deployed rather sooner than later.

It will be then when Google Maps will stop being a factor of risk (used by a human driver on a smartphone), but an efficient means of safety (seamlessly integrated in the autonomous car system).

Google Maps now can be a threat to your life (in the context described earlier), but it will soon be saving millions of people annually.

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Dimitris Tsingos

Dimitris Tsingos

Entrepreneur at Starttech Ventures