By on July 26, 2011

In addition to the recent tales (and sitcom gags) of GPS units leading hapless drivers into bodies of water, we have a new twist on the theme: GPS units leading hapless drivers astray in Death Valley. NPR reports

After a long day, [Donna] Cooper and her family asked “Nell,” the GPS, for the shortest route back to their home.

“Please proceed to the highlighted route,” Nell said.

But what came next did not compute. The GPS told them to go 550 feet, then turn right, Cooper says.

“Well, at 550 feet it was like a little path, and then it was like, go a quarter of a mile and turn left. There was nothing there. She had me running in circles for hours and hours and hours,” she says.

A park ranger explains that this happens “a couple times a year now,” including one incident two years ago in which a mother and her son were lost on an abandoned mining road for five days and the boy died. Rangers are now working with GPS firms to update their data on small and closed-down roads, but say no amount of work will ever replace common sense when it comes to navigating desert roads. Speaking of which, what happened to Cooper’s family?

According to NPR:

A search and rescue helicopter found Cooper’s family after three days of being lost. Everyone survived, except Nell, the GPS. But that’s not what Cooper was calling her by then.

“Called her a few names,” she says. “A couple four-letter words.”

And yet, Cooper has not lost faith. She has a new GPS now, named Rosie.

Despite identifying a lack of common sense as the basic problem, NPR never asks Ms. Cooper to reflect on her experience, and how it has made her relationship with “Rosie” different than her relationship with “Nell.” Could she imagine this happening to her again, or does she take a more personal interest in navigating (and possibly, by extension, driving) now? After all, dependence on electronic gizmos is becoming an increasingly common cause of inattentive driving, which can kill you in a crash as well as strand you in the desert. And as this Mercedes commercial points out, automakers have every interest in cultivating your dependence on all kinds of systems that ultimately encourage inattentive driving.

Perhaps I’m just fascinated by anyone who can have that much trust in a computer copilot while piloting several tons of high-powered steel around. I regularly drive vehicles with and without GPS, and I admit that navigation can be addictive. But I generally prefer to use it as a map rather than a having it read directions to me, because I don’t feel comfortable blindly accepting that “the machine knows,” as Michael Scott puts it. The downside is that visually navigating a GPS screen can be a huge distraction… which is why I try to go over my route before I go somewhere new, and only use the screen to quickly orient myself. In other words, I can’t imagine getting lost in the desert by blindly following my GPS in circles… but I can imagine getting honked at because I’m looking at my screen and not at the light that just turned green. And you know what? I feel fairly comfortable with the tradeoff.

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74 Comments on “Another Cautionary Tale Of GPS Dependence...”

  • avatar

    Do you know someone under fifty who is able to read a map? Are maps still available?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 34, and every year get a new Rand McNally map for Christmas. I’ve forced my wife to at least understand how to look at a map (she’s one of those that blindly follow GPS), so she has an idea of where she is. I may be a luddite, but damnit, I’ll know where I am in relation to everything else. I use GPS for the same purpose, Ed – to orient myself. Driving directions are just foolhardy.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 27. I used a couple of USGS 7.5min maps and a compass to ride an motorcycle solo 130 miles across the Mojave road. My Garmin Nuvi failed due to vibration, but the maps and compass worked just fine. Very few people my age seem to know what a compass does, much less how to orient and plot a course on a map.

    • 0 avatar

      And I still have Triptiks from AAA…

      I know there is a AAA Triptik iPhone app – haven’t checked it out – I love the plastic spiral bound triptiks with the route highlighted.

    • 0 avatar

      I can read one nicely thank you, and yes I am under 50.
      I noticed a curious thing about women and directions. Repeatedly when I was asked for written directions from a woman, I would carefully craft a map to a proportional scale, only to be rebuffed with a remark like “no, I wanted written directions (you imbecile)”.

      Apparently that meant: Go down X Street to Y Avenue and turn right, then continue down Y Avenue to Z Boulevard and then left…

      This happened so many times, that I can only conclude it is either a product of a non-visual bias in women’s education, or their brains are wired to see auditorily.

      The odd time that I met a woman who preferred a map, it was like I’d stumbled across a kindred spirit.

      @sastexan – I think triptiks are pretty cool too.

      • 0 avatar

        In my experience, women also prefer written directions that reference visual landmarks, e.g. Starbucks, green house, large willow tree, etc., as opposed to alpha-numeric indicators, like street names or highway numbers. I believe that this is further evidence that men and women really do relate to their surroundings in very different ways.

      • 0 avatar


        I guess you’re a slow learner then, eh?

      • 0 avatar

        @SimonAlberta – Apparently. I thought at first my maps were confusing, lacked detail, or were inaccurate. So I tried ever harder to improve, but to no avail. I think ClutchCarGo is on the right track.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a well established fact that men’s & women’s visuo-spacial cognition is different.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      29. Grew up reading Rand McNally road atlases during family vacations that involved road tripping from Wisconsin to Texas. Fun stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      Numerous studies over the past several decades have documented this phenomenon. Men can read maps, while women navigate using landmarks.

      Also a 2005 study demonstrated that homosexual men navigate the same way as women; but homosexual women do not navigate like men.

      • 0 avatar

        I can attest to this theory that women navigate visually.

        I too use a Rand McNally guide for all of our road trips. I do everything I can to make it easy for my wife to follow our preplanned route, including highlighting the roads to follow etc.

        Whenever I have to call on her for a quick check on direction she might look at the map and IF she can figure out where we are and if I ask her approximately how far to a location she will hold up her hand showing me the distance between her finger and thumb equivalent to the distance on the map. If I ask her which way we will be turning she points her finger in the direction the highlighted line on the page turns, no matter which direction the map may be oriented. I somewhat affectionately call her the Navigator from Hell.

        I had to buy a GPS just to save our marriage, besides a GPS is safer than having my wife hold a Rand McNally in front of my face for me to ‘look at it myself’.

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        “I had to buy a GPS just to save our marriage … ”

        There is an advertisement campaign in these words that is trying to come out.

    • 0 avatar

      Pizza delivery drivers. All but the inexperienced (with few exceptions) learn to rely on the map on the wall (The fun starts when the map hasn’t been updated in years.), because GPS will often either get you lost (road names change, new subdivisions, etc.), or take you on a slow route. A good city map is hard to find, gas stations will laugh at you if you ask for one. We use one obtained from the local mall.

      GPS is nice for the scrolling streets as you drive (kind of like playing Grand Theft Auto), but I go without punching in the destination 90+% of the time.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I can’t even understand that question. “Able to read a map…”

      How is one NOT able to read a map? Seriously, are there people who are actually incapable of grasping that the little squiggly lines are roads, and the numbers match up to the numbers on the signs?

      I have a hard time believing any relatively normal human being CAN’T read a map.

      Now if the question was about people OVER fifty and their ability to drive in general, well…

    • 0 avatar

      My son’s cub scout pack did orienteering a few years ago to teach them map and compass work and at 46 I’m still under 50 and use maps all the time. One of the first things I do in unfamiliar towns is get a street map so I can internalize the lay of the land, and cross check any directions I get.
      I view the GPS as a tool to use with a map to show where you are or help with routing. That said, Monday night on my way from Hillsboro OR to Portland International Raceway the Google navigation on my pone told me to get off I-5, and then routed me to the nearest i-5 on ramp. I took the surface streets and let it whine.

  • avatar

    Hard as it may be to believe, some people just hate maps. I know because I married one. Some of our worst fights have been while I was driving and had the unmitigated gall to ask her to navigate. I would never blindly trust a GPS to direct my every turn, but there’s definitely a population that is quite happy to do so. I don’t get it, could make a great thesis for a psych PhD.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the validation. I was scared I might sound sexist.

    • 0 avatar

      AMEN! After soooooooooooooo many trips, I learned to lay out the map prior to starting out so I would not have to have “her” navigate along the way. Point out where we are (while driving) and one block later she cannot tell you from the map what the next street will be. Love her to death but nearly zero map skills.

      Just printing out a satellite photo of the destination, sometimes encompassing 20 square miles, is enough for me to get us there.

      Had the Garmin NUVI 765 lady once tell me “Look, just pull over and ask for directions; I can’t help you any more.”.

  • avatar

    Just an indication of the further dumbing down of the driving experience. Is this much different than people who are totally dependent on automatic transmissions? …or electric starters?

  • avatar

    Our family still generally uses maps. Printed out from Google Maps most of the time, granted, but paper-and-ink maps nonetheless.

    GPS systems are very useful but I can’t fathom how someone would blindly rely on it; I actually look at the screen along with the directions being read to me but I think that might be because I’m a more visual person than most (and a below average listener).

    • 0 avatar

      Google Maps uses data purchased from a third-party supplier, so it is no more accurate than a new Tom Tom, Garmin, Magellan, etc. It will be more accurate than an old device, however, since Google’s data is frequently refreshed.

      I recently took several weeks to travel across the U.S. My GPS system was only wrong twice; in each case by less than one-quarter of a mile. On tertiary roads, however, both Google Maps and a GPS system will make errors, as they use the same or similar data bases.

      • 0 avatar

        Google has actually started generating their own map data using their StreetView cars.

      • 0 avatar

        I use a GPS nav system as an on-the-fly version of a Google maps trip plotter. In other words, I’ll plug in the destination and then look at the entire route first, before even pulling out into traffic.

        Sure, I may not remember all the turns for the route, but I checked out the veracity of the route prior to starting.

  • avatar

    My favorite was when we drove to Quebec last fall; the road magically disappeared from the GPS at customs, yet the road itself was still there, for some reason. Go figure.

    I’ve enjoyed using my Droids’ GPS when I’m in town; when in civilization and going from a place you’re not familiar to another place you’re not familiar it can be handy. It’s next to useless when you need it the most: when hooning in Appalachia. No signal = no map.

    That is why there is no beating a paper map with a compass.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, real GPS systems with the map loaded don’t have this problem as long as you have line-of-sight to the sky. This is the one fatal flaw of phone GPSes that don’t have the map preloaded.

      • 0 avatar

        “This is the one fatal flaw of phone GPSes that don’t have the map preloaded.”

        fatal flaw of SOME phone GPSs, I have the Tom tom and Navigon apps on my iPhone and they have the map preloaded. Most of the GPS apps that are more than $30 have preloaded maps.

      • 0 avatar

        There is a “google labs” (kind of like a beta) feature for google maps on android phones that allows the phone to download the complete map to your destination in case you lose the data connection. Gets me through the long obscure highways in TX just fine, don’t see why it wouldn’t work in Canada. This way, the satellite can still track the phone and you have the data preloaded.

      • 0 avatar

        you still have to remember to download the maps to cache them, mine are already there, makes it nice if on the way you have a change of plans or a detour that takes you off of the planned route.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      As of the latest Google Maps update on Android, it can now do offline caching of local map data.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks M1- this may prove handy. I’m thinking about touring the Appalachians next week, en route to Canada. Tom tom doesn’t work in Canada without some $$$/download, and I need to keep the droid off for roaming (plus the aforementioned lost signal issue.)

        Time for some personal research. Cheers.

  • avatar

    Yeah I am of two minds on the whole GPS thing. I love my iPhone, but only use the map feature rather than the GPS which it also has. If I don’t get to my destination right away the first time, at least I’ll be close enough to it to just pull over, re-check my map and then get to where I need to go, without having my hand held by the GPS.

  • avatar
    N Number

    My phone has a pretty good gps navigator on it and it has come in handy a few times, most notably in giant suburban shopping centers at night and in old town Santa Fe, which might as well be Europe from a driver’s standpoint. I hesitate to use it regularly, however. I am proud of my “internal compass” and my sense of orientation in most circumstances and I do not care to loose that.

  • avatar

    It can be nice when you are somewhere like Manhattan, and it keeps tells you which way to go, even when you miss a turn. On a trip back from Florida back to Michigan, my Garmin took me on a route through North Carolina that added about 4 hours to my trip. It was an awesome scenic drive, but I would have enjoyed the 4 hour savings more.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, in big (or unknown) these tools might be helpful. Provided, they offer the latest changes in one-way roads.

      But even in such cases I’d prefer an old-fashioned map, just to find out afterwards where I have been driving around. I like the “big picture” only maps can give you at a glance, where you are able to think about alternative routes, should something go wrong, or just for fun.

      But maps aren’t foolproof either. I remember me circling three times around the city of Brussels (with a map) before I found the right way to my destination. Of course, I could have asked someone for the right way, would I have been able to speak one of the local languages, and wouldn’t I have been to proud to do so.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure why you needed a GPS since I-75 goes all the way from Miami to Detroit, and never goes through North Carolina. I’m guessing it took you on some other slightly shorter distance route not using the interstate, since 85 and 95 go to Richmond.

  • avatar

    GPS systems are great when you are looking for a specific place (where’s the nearest Chick-fil-A?), but I’ve seen The Hills Have Eyes enough to not follow unmarked roads through the desert.

    Maybe the local GM dealer should send Ms. Cooper an Onstar pamphlet?

  • avatar

    And C.Darwin grins and giggles at them…

  • avatar

    Meh. I have an excellent sense of direction, and have no problem following a map. HOWEVER, having finally bought a TomTom GPS a couple years ago, all I have to say is “why did I wait so long”??? There is nothing worse than landing in a strange city somewhere at 10PM on a Sunday night, and trying to follow a map in a rental car to find some random hotel. Then trying to find the client site the next morning having no idea whether it will take 5 minutes or 50 to get there.

    But it is like any other tool, you need to have common sense (which is not common at all) and situational awareness. I have certainly been caught out a couple times where the GPS thought the address was somewhere other than where it actually was. But the chances of my following it to my doom are pretty seriously minimal.

  • avatar

    Edward Niedermeyer wrote:
    “Perhaps I’m just fascinated by anyone who can have that much trust in a computer copilot while piloting several tons of high-powered steel around.”

    I believe that commerical airline pilots do this every day.

    [Ducks and runs]

    • 0 avatar
      N Number

      Indeed. Well, with aluminum rather than steel. A buddy of mine is a pilot for a major airline and he’ll tell you the same. Before a charter flight, I had an unusual opportunity to visit him in the cockpit before departure. He had me sit down in his seat and punch several figures and codes into the flight computer. “Congratulations,” he said when I was done. “You have just programed an Airbus to fly to San Diego.”

  • avatar

    On my recent road trip around the western US, part of my journey involved driving from Winnemucca NV across the middle of friggin’ nowhere to Klamath Falls OR. The first part of the journey up to a tiny little place called Denio Junction was fine, but after I turned left to continue along the road, my Tomtom (with Ozzie Osbourne voice) flipped out. It either refused to recognize the road completely, or when it did find the road it started demanding I “turn f**king left” or “turn f**king right” down lonely looking dirt tracks. Eventually Tomtom found the road again after we entered the small town of Lakeview OR, but not before trying to direct us through a lumber yard.
    Now the road across from Denio Junction to Lakeview is 100 or so miles, but there is absolutely NOTHING up there. In the entire journey we passed one other car and two wild horses. If I had followed Tomtom’s advice there would probably still be a small red Chevy Cobalt with two desiccated corpses sat in it, stuck in the middle of nowhere with Ozzie Osbourne demanding the occupants “turn the f**k around.”

    • 0 avatar

      Sinister, somehow the fact that you have Ozzie on your GPS doesn’t surprise me!

    • 0 avatar
      H Man

      That road is AWESOME! Cresting the highway onto Warner Canyon was probably the biggest shock I’ve ever had driving. I’m practically a life-long Oregonian and I had never even heard of it.

      I can’t wait to tool around Nevada again.

      • 0 avatar

        The best part of that road is the downhill stretch from the Langslet monument rest area. The road hugs the side of the cliff for 3 miles and gets wonderfully bendy. Even in a Slowbalt it was a fantastic drive.

  • avatar

    Technically the GPS system doesn’t give directions – it just provides data (time) to calculate the position of the receiver on the earth. These bad directions are the result of the database of maps and the algorithm for choosing a route to a destination.

    I frequently use a GPS to just display the map around me. It’s the equivalent of a paper map that has my current location in the center of the display. The selection of the route is up to me or my navigator person.

    (paper maps aren’t infallible, they can have incorrect roads on them or they can get wet or torn and unreadable)

  • avatar

    Yeah, these gizmos are tops in populated areas when you want good (but not always great) directions from address to address. But out in the middle of nowhere, things get weird. For my favorite example, go to Google maps and check out California City, CA. That whole area around there was ambitiously mapped out, but very little of it is actual road. If you zoom in real close on the satellite view, you can see that they scratched these roads out in the desert, but they never actually got built. Google for its history – a fascinating read.

  • avatar

    There is an unusually configured ramp / intersection right by my house (the Glen Echo turnaround on Clara Barton Parkway for those familiar with DC). For traffic attempting to exit from one direction, there is a U turn then a merge with opposing traffic, under a bridge, then a fork in the road – all in about a 100 yard span – the fork is a little blind too. Seems like every other time I go through that intersection is someone who stands on the brakes, confused at what their GPS is telling them to do, then starts one way and tries to back up. I’m surprised the accident rate isn’t higher – I’ve only seen about one pileup per quarter. I absolutely despise people waiting for their GPS to tell them what to do, instead of reading actual signage or thinking more than 5 feet in front of their cars.

  • avatar
    V-Strom rider

    I’ve just returned from a holiday in Italy where we stayed in a hill-top apartment in Tuscany. As you leave the town of Greve there is a large sign saying something like “Ignore your GPS. This road is impassable. Folllow the directions that were emailed to you after making your booking.” Having walked the route suggested by the satnav I can confirm it to be suitable for walkers, Jeep Wranglers and mountain goats but definitiely not for passenger cars! However, without the sign one would not realise this until well up the track, which gets progressively steeper, narrower and rougher.

  • avatar

    On our recent trip thru the western US we used both a GPS and a good old paper map.
    The GPS is ideal in an urban setting when you’re trying to find a landmark, amusement park, hotel etc and especially for when you’re tired and just want to get a room as soon as possible. Squinting at a map in a dark car when you’re fatigued and grumpy is not a lot of fun.
    But we noticed no matter how we set it, it usually put us on a long, meandering route and more often than not we ignored it. It’s kind of fun to do opposite of what it suggests and see how it works that out.
    It’s better to use the paper map as much as possible IMHO, and never on the highway, what’s the point? So yes they’re handy, but blind obedience will add more time to your journey and make you a slave to technology.

  • avatar

    Did anyone notice that this article further confirms the impending world domination by Hyundai? Seriously, go back 20 years and you’ll see a jeep or some other rugged vehicle. But the Accent is so good, you take it to the DEATH VALLEY!

    “And here we was rock climbing, and the Accent is like, whoom, vroom, wosh, plomp, then after the rocks we cruising and outta nowhere, this Mersaydus comes out, and I thought I got him, but it stopped! it bloody stopped right there, inches from my door! Darn ‘lectronics.”

  • avatar

    There’s an unmaintained road behind my house that the Lowe’s, Sleepy’s, Bob’s Furniture, etc., vans always seem to take.

    My town’s road agent, having a good sense of humor, put up this sign:


  • avatar

    I can see the benefits of the GPS as well, but so far, have not had the hankering for one, though my Blackberry has one, but I think I used it once to see how it works a little but have not turned it on again. It’s part of the maps app.

    I am fortunate that I have a pretty good to very good sense of direction and as long as I know what’s East, West, North and South, I’m usually good there and rely on maps to help get me oriented enough to know where I need to go.

    I’ve used both Mapquest and Google maps for directions but have found that often it does not offer the most efficient route. That said, when I’m not totally familiar with where something is, getting the directions from the exit to the location is sometimes all I need for as long as I know I need to be on X highway or road to get to the exit, I’m usually good. I also have the old skool maps and they work great as well as the Google satellite image or better yet, Google Earth to help get me oriented as to what the route will be.

    Back before GPS and all the electronic gadgets we now have, I had to to to an interview at a small TV station in Klamath Falls Or and I knew the route, more or less to Medford from Tacoma via I-5, but not the way to Klamath Falls and looking on the map, I was able to map out my route BEFORE I left my parent’s house to drive down. I also used the maps to get through Portland.

    When I had to go to Bend Or a month later that same year, I did the same thing, mapped out my route to Bend from again, Tacoma heading to Eugene/Salem before heading east up through mountains encircling the northern edge of a national park, who’s name I forget now but ended up going through the town of Sister’s before taking the final lag of road into Bend, which is the major population center for central Oregon and straddles U.S. Route 97 that goes from the California border up through Klamath Falls then Bend and eventually ends at the Washington St’s borders in Eastern Washington.

    But when I came home from Bend, I drove up US Route 97 to the Dalles area and took the the Dalles highway into Gresham and into Portland where I think then met back up with I-5 and headed home from there.

    All that without a GPS but instead relied on maps and pre-planning to get me safely to and fro.

  • avatar

    I’ve had lotsa fun fiddling around with the gps in our new (well, 09) Accord. It shows the same street name for four different back roads just half a mile or so from the house. It has different incorrect information from Google Maps, which shows nonexistent roads and roads going through people’s houses in that same area.

    I like it for hunting through back streets in cities – you can see right away which of them go through and which don’t. It’s also good for showing back roads that I didn’t know existed, and most of them it showed me have actually been there.

    For checking out routes through a place like Seattle for instance (where I am generally familiar with through routes), like going from a wedding on Queen Anne Hill to the reception at some place on the Ship Canal, nothing beats looking at the satellite pics on Google Maps before I leave the house, so I can see what intersections and buildings actually look like.

  • avatar

    I always used maps up until a year ago, I would either buy a map or study the route using both the road view and satellite view in Google Maps until I was all set. 15 minutes of prep work and you should be fine for most routes. I only got lost once, and that was in Springfield, Mass after a series of roads were closed due to a pipe bursting and when I tried to get back to the street I had been on I found that Springfield doesn’t do street signs in some neighborhoods. Great Place. When I started doing job interviews I got a GPS just in case and to get real time traffic. Its great for finding gas stations and food. However maps are by far the best, my GPS refuses to give me the complete route so I don’t always trust it, also it doesn’t always know the circumstances. On the 5th of July it wanted me to get off of I-95 and to head east and go along the coast of NH to avoid a major accident. Yeah that’s a brilliant idea on a holiday weekend (101 West to 93 South it was). I think it should be mandatory for kids to know how highway numbering works, what beltways are, and how to look at road markers to tell where they are. Knowing those alone can easily get you from point A to B.

  • avatar

    Does no one remember the best of both GPS and Map worlds?

    Printed Mapquest?

    I have a Garmin, but I like Mapquest a little better, I really only use it to find what exit to take or things like that.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Being a life-long southern flatlander, I do somewhat sheepishly admit that I find navigating in mountainous terrain (without any maps at all) a very puzzling experience. I’m accustomed to being able to travel more or less directly to something I can see. Whereas up north (where most of my family lives), being able to see something doesn’t necessarily imply you can get there.

    My wife and I took a couple weeks to tool around the mountains of western PA on our Z1000s a couple years ago, so I bought a little TomTom that I could easily stash in the see-thru case on my bike tank. I forget what they call the feature, but I discovered the option for sticking to maintained roads was almost useless. Over and over it would route us down some terrifyingly primitive, gravelly incline to reach another major roadway. I longed for my knobby-wheeled BMW F650GS. Eventually I turned off the nav and hunted for roads I knew and just worked my way home by a sort of drunkard’s-walk dead-reckoning guesswork.

    Only about six months earlier in the same area, but this time in heavy snowfall, my Suburban’s nav went all sideways. I knew I had to take this nice wide bridge across the Sesquehanna, but the nav insisted I should turn north just before the bridge and travel about a quarter mile along the river. Out of curiosity and boredom, I followed the directions, having just read some articles about people driving into lakes and such. The road led to a dead end. But just a few hundred feet beyond is a very convenient train bridge which also crosses the river, which was the route preferred by the nav.

    My friend’s wife literally can’t drive more than about half a mile from her home without the nav. She doesn’t know where anything is or how to get anywhere. Fairly pathetic.

    These people who blindly follow these things deserve what they get.

  • avatar

    After all the self-satisfied snickering wears down, and one looks honestly at the issue, it is nothing more than a product liability concern.

    Having a system that leads one into the middle of nowhere is not the same as a person that blindly follows the gps’ micro instructions and drives onto the sidewalk, instead of 10 meters beyond the sidewalk.

    Incidents as where the boy died, or the girls drove the M-class into the lake, are worthy of a major lawsuit.

    Even my 2003-era Mercedes GPS system seems to be so sure of its infallability that it only says Obey The Rules Of The Road, but doesn’t bother to say that sometimes it will do flaky things. (Pity is that there is also no easy way (last I checked) to flag the manufacturer of the errors.)

    The same for the Audi Q7 that had me (and apparently the guy in the BMW behind me had the same system) into a do-loop 3 times (and this was the worst kind, because by the time it was clear what was happening, one was into the 10 km loop with no way to back out) on the Bundesstrassen of Bavaria… was a pretty drive, but not after the 2nd time, in max summer heat, in a car with broken a/c to boot!

    I took most of the maps out of my car, but still carry one when I’m on a longer trip (just in case.) Even so, this does not absolve a manufacture of a GPS unit of its responsibility for getting the product right.

  • avatar

    Eh, take GPS with a grain of salt. I have a paved driveway, a rather long one – 490 feet, but clearly it’s a driveway going to a single house. I get the occasional lost soul show up at my garage looking dumbfounded and saying,” my GPS says this is a road” and i reply (with thanks to Richard Pryer) who you gonna believe? that? or your lying eyes?

    After getting a Garmin, I can relate, damn thing says it’s “Chase Drive” really? the state needs to come and put a littl sealer on it then!

  • avatar

    I find that a GPS makes it hard to keep one’s attention outside the car where it belongs. I have to make a conscious effort to ignore the deranged voice which is telling me to ‘keep right in the left lane and turn left in 400 meters’ (really?) when it’s obvious that I have to take the off-ramp to the right and turn left at the top where the lights are. It’s also hard not stare at the little car moving along the purple line instead of the actual road.

    I always prepare for trips by exploring the area with Google Maps/Earth and look at the general layout. For one drive from Nova Scotia to Portland, Maine…I fired up Microsoft Flight Simulator and flew all over the town, noting unusual buildings and landmarks. I astounded my wife by being able to drive directly to our hotel without a map or GPS. It was only 1/2 a mile south of runway 11, after all!

  • avatar

    I have OnStar in our Pontiac, and use the Directions and Connections feature. When taking long trips, we usually map out the route using Mapquest and print it out even though we have in car navigation. For a long time, there was an option to upload your Mapquest route to your OnStar equipped car, but I cannot find this option on Mapquest now that they have updated the site.

    I personally like the way OnStar speaks to you as you drive, and reminds you in increments when it’s time to turn. I have not used it in crowded (downtown) city streets, however, so I could see that as something of a disadvantage not having a spatial reference where a street or exit could be. But trolling the Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago city areas with OnStar has not resulted in any mishaps. I see some of the newer versions of OnStar have a GPS-like display, but I’m not sure if that would be a distraction like others here have noted.

    My kids have GPS units for their cars, and they work pretty well, but whether we’re using OnStar or a GPS, we’ve never encountered any of the issues like these folks do. I suppose, if we were traveling in much less densely populated areas that don’t necessarily maintain a good signal, our experience would be different.

    We still keep an Atlas in our car, in the event that something unforeseen should happen, but we did that back in the day of the AAA Triptiks, too.

  • avatar

    I use a GPS and have an atlas on long trips but I also use Google Maps and the atlas to handwrite route reminders when I go somewhere for the first time. The handwritten notes are handy to check progress quickly without being over dependent on the GPS.

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    Driving Colorado 82 from Aspen toward Leadville, my Navteq GPS (set to “shortest route”) said, “Turn right in 1/2 mile” as we descended the east side of Independence Pass. Soon, the mechanical lady said, “Turn right in 100 feet”. Then she said “Turn right!”. We paused to look for a road to turn onto, finding only about 500 feet of steep, like 45°, scree. No road. There was a possible Forest Service hiking path a bit below us, but nothing even a pro-grade rock crawler could negotiate. A comment sent to Navteq elicited no reply. What’s an occasional squashed customer worth? Apparently, not much.

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    How many have actually driven in the desert?

    The plethora of dirt roads and trail cut through the wild country is enough to make your head spin. I have to get an updated map almost every year and even then the “roads” aren’t correct.

    I have a patch on the other side of the mountain from my house in which I went riding a few weeks ago; the spiderweb of alternate routes was mind boggling and I could see someone who is not familiar with the area getting lost. Luckily I know that I am bordered by either the roads or, well the border on all sides and as long as I keep going in one direction that I’ll come out to pavement sooner or later.

    Personally the only GPS I own is an old Garmin GPS III that I only use to record my tracks when I ride in the desert. At least I know if nothing else I can follow my route back out.

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    The electronic mapping companies and those that use their maps (Google) used old maps from the 1940s, at least for the Death Valley portions… So printing out a map from online is not a guarantee that it will be accurate. What gets me though is that once the Ranger that NPR interviewed got one of the mapping companies (Navteq?) on the phone all they had to was a two-click process to delete the roads.

    Most of the country old maps won’t matter as much, but places like Death Valley… well, it got it’s name somehow, right? More care needs to be taken.

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    How did humans ever find their way around before?

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    I once talked to a guy who claimed he could create traffic jams around the Stanford Campus at will. Given that the military uses GPS transmissions, I always thought he was full of it, but who knows….

    • 0 avatar

      GPS only gives you your present location and velocity (and the military has access to more precise data than a consumer GPS can use). The maps, traffic information, and other crap that you get with your navigation app and/or gadget are a separate thing provided by the device maker or app company.

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    I really don’t understand why GPS are so frowned upon and considered dangerous. Yes, I’m a girl, yes, I’m 18, and yes, I use a GPS. However, I always take a look at my atlas (get a new one every year) before I leave the house to make sure the GPS is taking me on the proper and preferred route. If not, I add destinations to force it to follow my route. I don’t use the sound, instead paying attention to how many miles I have until my turn, and then looking for the road when I get close. I personally find this method to be safer, more efficient, and less distracting than my parents’ methods of continually checking the map while driving, pulling over to reconcile any mistakes, and so on. If the driver pays attention to where they are in relation to their destination, and doesn’t just drive around staring at the little picture of a car, GPS are perfectly safe and useful devices.

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