Google Maps has spent the best part of five months testing a new feature in India that will alert you if your taxi or ride-sharing driver begins to drive you off route, and are now ready for the start of their global launch.
The new alert feature, named 'Stay safer', is designed to improve public safety when using taxi or ride-sharing services in unfamiliar towns and cities, Google has said.
The feature will alert you if your driver veers off course by at least 500 metres.
It's thought that the app will not alert you about a wrong turn, a minor reroute or a shortcut by your driver designed to avoid traffic, as long as the car remains on track to your destination.
Normally when a driver begins an alternative route, Google Maps will adjust a reroute to accommodate, but with this new feature the journey does not get rerouted automatically.
So in order for the drivers to avoid the alert being triggered, they will likely need to stay close to the original route set out by the app.
The new alert feature is currently live in India and has been seen operating in the Netherlands and the US, but is expected to hit the UK in the very near future.
Although at first thought, the new feature may seem like a great idea as a first point of call for worried passengers, not everyone will see it as a complete positive for the industry.
Stephen McCaffrey, a regulatory defence barrister specialising in taxi and private hire licensing law, appeals and defence, suggested the technology could cause unnecessary anxiety for both the driver and passenger.
The barrister suggested that the function did not keep up with all live events like traffic, road closures and taxi access only roads. He also urged drivers “to be careful how they manage” situations arising from the new function.
McCaffrey said via the Taxi Defence Barristers blog: “Clearly this is a feature aimed at protecting the public, but it may also cause licensed drivers unnecessary difficulties.
"The fact is that technology does not keep up with real life. An obvious example of this is road closures and diversions that can happen without notice. In these cases it may be that Google’s new feature will alert passengers (and potentially cause anxiety) unnecessarily.
“Whilst there is a requirement on taxi drivers not to unnecessarily prolong journeys, there may be several ways to get to a destination. Provided the way chosen by the taxi drivers is not unreasonably prolonged, they could take a direction that Google Maps may not agree with and this too may cause an alert to the passenger.
“Whilst the idea is good, the application may cause difficulties for drivers who will need to be careful how they manage this.”
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