By on January 9, 2020

The wonders of modern technology allow us to enjoy an endless list of conveniences and pleasures. It’s amazing we’re so miserable.

Our cars can brake on their own to avoid the nearsighted neighbor boy; lane-hold systems can keep us on the straight and narrow, while in-dash navigation systems and even our phones can offer verbal directions to the destination of our choice. No longer does man have to suffer with paper maps and dead reckoning. The stars adorning the heavens are there just for decoration these days.

And yet technology still has the annoying tendency to fail at its job.

It was New Year’s Eve. A friend and I were on the way to meet up with a group of people at a cherished dive bar, riding in the back of a Altima piloted by an Uber driver who, and this isn’t a comment on anything, only recently entered the country. With local landmarks still unfamiliar to this driver, surely his phone’s GPS would prove an asset, right?

Wrong. Ever since GPS misdirections made their way into the plot of The Office, wild forays into the unknown at the hands of a drunk electronic navigator have been part of the public consciousness. It was no different that night, as the driver’s GPS led us everywhere but our intended destination. Time after time, the infuriating charted and spoken course would offer up a path heading exactly away from the bar.

With whole dollars riding on this gig-economy excursion, my threadbare wallet ached as each block passed. Eventually we threw in the towel, asking the driver to stop when we passed within walking distance of the destination, thus forcing us into a crowd of pissed-drunk French Canadians who soon decided the time was right for a snowball fight.

It’s not the first time I’ve been led astray by someone else’s GPS, and it likely won’t be the last. In this scenario, the addle-brained directions only delayed the pouring of intoxicating beverages down your author’s bone-dry gullet. In other circumstances, faulty electronic directions can have a far greater impact.

What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had with GPS?

[Image: Trekandshoot/Shutterstock]

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41 Comments on “QOTD: Taken For a Ride?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Actually the Tom Tom maps and directions in my car are spot on and never lead me astray and I use it daily, but years ago when the technology was newer and more fallible there was a client I had to visit and no matter what my GPS would take me to the county landfill. It got to be a joke with the client with me wondering if others had the same problem, they didn’t. It was just a glitch in the system that I just worked around. It happens

  • avatar
    redgolf

    I had to stop using my Tom Tom when I could no longer get the maps upgraded (older model) now with my new Equinox I use Android Auto and love it, it’s been spot on especially on a recent trip to Navarre Beach, Fl. and back!

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Jesus. That is horrifying. Properly functioning GPS is supposed to lead you AWAY from French Canadians.

    Count yourself lucky, bro. You are a survivor.

    Remember that PTSD treatment is free in Canada, although you may not be able to find a clinic using your current GPS device.

    So that’s ironic.

    • 0 avatar
      Menar Fromarz

      This post, whilst likely confusing to our southern neighbours, is the most spot on post of the day, if not the year.
      It may not be well known, this function of GPS systems, but to western Canadians in particular, this GPS feature also works in reverse, keeping most of them out of BC.
      Its effectiveness coupled with the prairie provinces ( aka: “the buffer zone “)is pretty good, although some sneak thru weaknesses in the Matrix to spread Bohemian lifestyles and Dreads throughout the promised land.
      Must see about fixing those pesky flaws.

  • avatar
    TR4

    Trip to Milwaukee from Detroit. I changed the route to avoid I-94 in Indiana which was under construction with long delays at the time and selected the Indiana Toll Road instead. Apparently this pi$$ed the GPS off. It had me exit the toll road, drive about 3 miles north, and then make a u-turn to get back to the toll road. After the second time it did this I re-entered the destination, had it calculate a new route, and all was OK.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    Back in the mid 70’s, long before GPS and cell phones, we were driving from Michigan to Kentucky to visit family in my 72 Buick Limited with the wife and 2 small children, we missed the turn to catch the Cumberland Expressway, 2 farmers were walking alongside the road we were on so I stopped to ask for directions to get on the Cumberland, I asked them ” where’s the Cumberland” they replied ” oh, just keep driving and you’ll run right into it” so I kept driving losing daylight by the minute, when I turned a wide corner I slammed on the brakes and was staring at a pickup truck attached to a boat and trailer being pulled out of the Cumberland River! Seems the road ended in the water and was being used as a boat ramp! My heart jumped out of my chest that day thinking what would have happened if that truck wasn’t there, 5 minutes later and the Deuce and a Quarter (225) would have been a Duck and a quarter! Makes me wonder would a GPS have given me the same directions? I know it’s happened to some.

  • avatar
    Jon

    In 2009(ish) my wife had the coolest newest phone… The Blackberry. It was fancy. It was her first phone with GPS.

    We were on our way home from San Diego to Phoenix. For some reason the phone did not take us home on the I-5 like how we traveled to San Diego. Instead it took is through Escondido and Temecula. Being young and twitterpated with no children in our favorite car, we decided to take the blackberry route.

    It was a pretty drive. Then… blackbery took us down the 74 to Palm Desert. As we began to drop out of the Santa Rosa Mountains, the rode turned into some rather dicey switchbacks. I tried not to have too much fun carving the corners. My wife hates windy roads. She closed her eyes and tried not to cover the dash with breakfast. After a few corners i felt bad for her, so i slowed down and tried to make the drive less unnerving for her.

    Now, every time her omniscient Iphone takes us on the scenic route, I remind her of the old blackberry.

  • avatar
    Jon

    ‘road’

    Oh edit button, where art thou?

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    When I lived in the country, GPS would take visitors down the closest road to my house. Only problem was the bridge was taken out years ago & was now on private property.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      For the longest time it showed a road that lead to a neighbors back yard as the way into our development and he actually had UPS drivers cutting through his yard until he put up a fence to block them. Also they liked to try and take you down the pipeline road which hasn’t ever been open to the public as it is just a one lane gravel road.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    When your destination is hundreds of miles away and 2 or 3 states over, you really should know how to get most of the way there (or very close by), so you don’t end up in Slab City (at night) or a stuck down a cow path, and just use the GPS (or un-mute) when in doubt, or point out the neighborhood or house.

    Hwy 74 between Palm Desert and the Ocean is great for canyon carving though. And someone please give this site a peanut butter enema.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Italy,
    Before starting the trip, I purchased a map of Italy for our Garmin we were using in a Hertz rental Fiat. After leaving Florence and heading North to Assisi, the Garmin took us in the opposite direction on the A road to Assisi. I was looking at the afternoon sky and noticed that the sun as in the wrong direction and had to make a U turn at the next exit. That detour cost us two hours which we would have spent in Assisi. Instead, we had to proceed to the hotel just outside of Venice the final stop.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    Waze and possibly other route planners see the 5 mile long dirt road I live on as connecting to the freeway at both ends, and one year was especially bad at directing traffic our way when the freeway was shut down for whiteout blizzards and big rigs going sideways. We didn’t get any big rigs, but we had a solid line of hundreds of idiots who somehow believed that our one lane dirt road was kept open even when the freeway was shut down for weather.

    Five of them got about 100 yards past the end of the pavement before bogging down. A neighbor got them to pay him $100 each to show them how to get out of their BMW Xs and Subarus, into the foot deep mudhole they had made trying to turn around, to use branches and rocks to fill in the hole, then use the plywood sheet from his truck to make a temporary road surface to get back out, then get back out and put his plywood back in his truck … we had a damned good laugh at the red mud they had tracked back into their expensive cars, and zero sympathy.

    Honestly, the freeway is shut down due to weather. What the devil makes people think a nearby frontage road of any sort is passable, let alone a dirt road?

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I was about to suggest that you could get lots of Waze points by reporting the map error (Waze points are as valuable as “likes” on social media, bragging rights with… yourself), but having read to the end of your post I would suggest not reporting it at all. Watching the circus—and occasionally contributing to it—is much more fun!

  • avatar
    JMII

    I find GPS struggles with the “last mile” problem. I’ve had guidance send me to the wrong side of the street, or the back of a building. For example my work office has four entrances (due to a large parking lot) but the GPS can’t figure out which one is the “front”. It doesn’t seem to understand that the shortest distance is not always the best. I’ve encountered this so many times I’ve just learned to put the address into Google Earth and switch to street view to get the lay of the land before heading to a new destination. This way I can figure out where to park and where the (normally obvious) front door is. This is a common problem in downtown areas and corporate or industrial parks.

    Home addresses it seems to do better with. However my house has a small lake behind it. I’ve seen where the GPS thinks I live at my neighbors house. Well unless you have a boat there is a BIG difference between these two locations. Its a classic case of you can’t get there from here. One street over puts you in a different subdivision with no way to reach my house.

    I have seen it screw up one-way streets which is potential very dangerous. Other mess ups are complex overlapping highway on/off ramps. For example all the interchanges N of the DFW airport gives Waze fits. Even had an Uber driver who couldn’t figure out which was the right ramp. I told him to stop listening to Siri and just follow the signs… you know the big things over the road with arrows saying “AIRPORT”.

  • avatar
    mikey

    My wife and I were making our way to a Firebird show in Saratoga N.Y.. So we are in a foreign country, Not Quebec the other one that speaks the common tongue .

    Two times the Tom Tom lead us to a graveyard . At the time my wife is berating me (rightfully so ) for making the same mistake twice. At this point I’m a little annoyed. I unplug the Tom Tom turn it off, and shove it into the consul . My wife, consulting a paper map, proceeds to give me verbal directions . Thats when things went south !

    I foolishly mentioned to my bride of 40 years ,and I quote ..”Too bad I can’t unplug you as easily ”

    Ya gotta trust me on this guys …It was not the proper response .. !!!! I had to point out to her that the State of New York might have capital punishment.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    A decade ago I was driving all around the state doing work for local government offices. The Google Maps app on the then-new Droid 2 and Android 2.x was constantly sending me to the wrong places, directing nonexistent turns and unable to find the offices I was looking for or the hotels I was staying at. It was total garbage. And of course, out in the sticks losing the cellular signal left me out of luck entirely a bunch of times. So I dragged around an outdated backup Garmin unit. I got an iphone 4 and the paid Garmin app and had much better luck with that.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    The state DOT was going to replace a bridge on the state highway near my parents’ home this past year, but continual high water on the river prevented them from finishing the project before winter. North of the bridge the highway is open to traffic, but only currently getting used by locals who either need to be there or who know that there is a much shorter detour than the official ones.

    One of my best friends from school, who grew up north of the bridge, took the local detour route going home for Christmas. When he got back onto the open-to-local-traffic section of the state highway, Apple Maps told him to turn around, detour another mile over to township gravel roads, and completely avoid driving on any segment of the state highway between the endpoints of the official detour (though only the southernmost mile, from the river valley to the south end of the official detour, is actually gated closed.)

  • avatar
    cprescott

    I marvel at those who rely on GPS. I actually print a map and then study the driving directions and leave plenty early to find the place. But then again, I was not born a snowflake or cupcake so I know what a map is.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I’ve had the GPS nav lead me elsewhere a couple times, and each time I had entered the street address of my intended destination. When I entered the name of the place then it worked correctly. Strange.

    It would have been either Google Maps or Waze, those are the only two that I ever use, and the last time it happened was about five years ago.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Back in the days of TomTom, I had to learn to never select “Shortest Route” and use “Fastest Route” instead. What’s the difference anyhow you ask? Well, let’s say that you’re on a major highway doing 60 MPH. The highway makes a very long sweeping curve as you drive through the city. “Fastest Route” keeps you on the highway, averaging 60 MPH. “Shortest Route” takes you off an exit-ramp and you drive on the city street for a mile or so, and then take the next on-ramp to return to the highway. You see, by taking the straightest line you will have saved hundreds of yards over continuing around the curve in the highway. I once had TomTom short-cut through a rail-yard on the same theory. My wife wanted to get rid of the TomTom that day, for being stupid.

  • avatar
    Fred

    My GPS takes me off the main highway to a rural road, I’m guessing because it thinks it takes less time, if maybe be, but I don’t like it. On the other hand I let it take me off the main highway one time and found a nice little winery and fruit stand. So it works both ways.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Sick of Waze idiots who get told they will save one minute by using neighborhood streets as shortcuts and then drive down them at 40 mph trying to prove Waze right. Waze is way too aggressive at directing people to do that.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Navigating through the Forest Service Roads of Mount Shasta National Forest.

    Every map, every GPS source, every paper source is a steaming pile of crap. Miles upon miles of rerouting and detours.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    GPS is helpful and phone is helpful and they are helpful in different ways.

    Controversially, I still like to have a paper atlas if I am going very far, for:
    a) context (paper atlas shows way more at a glance than any current screen can)
    b) traffic workarounds (I dislike waiting on the interstate, and I find most ‘detour’ functions less than ideal)
    c) wilderness (no signal, poor signal)
    d) interesting side trips and making note of things to visit next time

  • avatar
    lstanley

    I live at the north end of three mile long peninsula, and for about one year the bridge connected the south end of the peninsula to the main road was out. This effectively turned the main road running down the peninsula into a dead end and obviously stopped all through traffic.

    Once the bridge opened back up the neighborhood braced for the resumption of traffic, but it didn’t come. After a few months we noticed that Google Maps still showed the bridge as closed and wouldn’t route vehicles on the road. It stayed this way for a quite a few months longer, maybe even half a year.

    It was glorious. Viva slowly updated Google Maps!

  • avatar
    lstanley

    I live at the north end of three mile long peninsula, and for about one year the bridge connected the south end of the peninsula to the main road was out. This effectively turned the main road running down the peninsula into a dead end and obviously stopped all through traffic.

    Once the bridge opened back up the neighborhood braced for the resumption of traffic, but it didn’t come. After a few months we noticed that Google Maps still showed the bridge as closed and wouldn’t route vehicles on the road. It stayed this way for a quite a few months longer, maybe even half a year.

    It was glorious. Viva slowly updated Google Maps!

  • avatar
    NeilM

    I have a Satnav app (Co-Pilot) on my iPhone and iPad that has its own onboard map files, several GB worth for each of North America and Europe. You still need GPS for directions, or to know where you are currently, but don’t need a cellular signal or data at all.

    This is great while driving around in Europe, where the cost of data roaming on a visiting US phone is very high. (The same considerations would apply with a US cellphone in Canada, or vice-versa.) For the iPad I usually pick up a local data SIM. The larger iPad screen also makes a better ‘map’.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    While I can’t claim anything as bad as described by the author, I still don’t fully trust GPS, especially in big cities where satellite signals (and cellular) can get confused by signal reflection off the buildings (and signal blockage, as well.) If I know where I’m going, I tend to take routes that I already know. If I don’t know, I pre-map it and verify that the routing will take me to my proper destination. I will, if I feel I have the spare time, attempt a new route through GPS but even then I will monitor my time to destination and if the route doesn’t seem to be working then revert to a known route. I have learned a few new routes by this method but I almost invariably only try them when I’m not concerned about time or ‘cost’.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Too many times/issues to list. Tomtom, Magellan, Waze, on-board systems, etc.

    Once you become dependent on these you no longer start recognizing landmarks, directions, etc and become another drone dependent upon technology.

    I drove some university science students from Kingston Ontario to Toronto using backroads and ingoring their please to use their navigation apps. When asked how I could make sure that we were not lost I informed them. “As long as Lake Ontario is on our left (south) and we are driving towards the sun (west it was in the late afternoon), we are going in the right direction.”

    They were amazed and asked how I knew that.

    Few things are more fun than just pulling out a map and deciding where you want to go.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    ” “As long as Lake Ontario is on our left (south) and we are driving towards the sun (west it was in the late afternoon), we are going in the right direction.”

    They were amazed and asked how I knew that.”

    I hope you razzed them about their generation’s shortcomings, how they should turn in their man cards, etc.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    Mikey – You might want to view Milton singing “The Man Song” on youtube ;-)

    https://www.google.com/search?q=the+man+song+video&oq=the+man+song&aqs=chrome.2.69i59j69i57j0l3j69i61j69i60l2.7942j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

  • avatar
    redgolf

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7Y0I91rubg
    ” The Man Song”

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Mikey likes to live dangerously ! =8-) .

    I prefer paper maps for the reasons described .

    When I’m out driving it’s not uncommon for my Garmin to show us driving 100′ away through a golf course or riverbed…..

    OTOH, when I’m out on a Road Rally blistering along I can see the next turn coming up with out needing to slow down and look at signs, if there are any .

    I never, _EVER_ typ in where I want to go, I just let the map scroll as I blunder about .

    REMEMBER : All roads lead to the same place, some just take longer than others .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I spent 1996-1997 on a yacht in the Caribbean(primarily) with unlimited funding. We had state of the art navigational aides; including three GPS devices, laptop computer navigation plotters, 40-mile radius radar, and two auto-helms. At the time, GPS was an incredible time-saver. Previously, navigation was accomplished with a combination of compass, sun-sights and clocks, and a sextant used for plotting position relative to stars at night. The hand-held GPS was quite the labor-saver.

    With the benefit of GPS, computer-loaded charts, and auto-helm; we managed to attempt an island crossing. The captain was below deck and I was on watch. I pointed out that we would need some amphibious capability to maintain our heading, and the dolt of a captain suggested that I was misjudging our course. He came on deck when I switched off auto-helm and corrected our heading. It’s not a great feeling when you realize you’re crewing for a captain who has the judgment of a Pelosi-voter, but at least he had to give up on his hope that he’d caught me being wrong about something material.

    In the late ’90s or early 2000s, I recall renting a car to go to some outlet malls north of Manhattan. The navigation system told us to get off the parkway, drive up and down a service road, and then get back on the parkway roughly where we’d gotten off. Or maybe it was printed out MapQuest directions.

    I’ve had great luck with automotive navigation the past few years, but I had a friend who was all-in long before it was justified. I recall one time we drove from San Diego to Long Beach for the Long Beach Grand Prix only to exit the freeway and find a bunch of cars on both shoulders of a multi-lane highway. Everyone was using a Tom-Tom or Magellan or whatever, and everyone had it take them to the wrong freeway exit and then start a ‘recalculating’ loop without end. Another time with the same friend, he insisted on taking a navigation-suggested short-cut when I knew the real way. The GPS directed us to the opposite side of a canyon from where we wanted to be, and the only way to complete the trip by car involved going about twenty miles to circumnavigate the barren valley between us and our destination.

  • avatar
    80Cadillac

    This has been corrected now in Google Maps, but my parents used to have to give delivery persons specific instructions to their house on North Fairway Drive. The automatic maps would route the drivers to come via South Fairway Drive. The problem with that being that the connection between South and North was a series of cart paths through the golf course!

    A few years ago, a younger friend accompanied me on a trip from NC to TX. Once in upstate SC, we found I-85 to be a parking lot. So I took the next exit, grabbed a road atlas, and within a minute or so we were headed south on a 2-lane road to go through Anderson and then Athens on our way toward Atlanta. My friend was silent for a minute or so, and then quietly said, “I’ve…I’ve never really seen anybody do that.”

    My sister teaches high school, and recently was telling me that at the start of the year, she quizzes her students on a few things. When asking them about directions, one question is “Can you point towards the North?”. Invariably, she says, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the students point straight up, towards the sky.

    I inspect houses all over NC, and occasionally have used the GPS in my phone for “last mile” help, particularly when there is something unexpected, like a construction detour, that didn’t show on the map prior to the trip. On trips in the early ’70’s, Mom always wondered why the 2 year-old me insisted on holding the map, and then she finally realized that I was tracking our trips in real time. I travel a lot on secondary and back roads (often with a little travel trailer), and if I ever get turned around and don’t know exactly where I am, I usually just keep going until I’m in a place where I *do* know where I am. My car does not have the screen/GPS, but often when I drive Mom places in her newer van, I will put the screen on the real time map, just for entertainment.

    I remember a great success with OnStar about 10 years ago. I was driving my sister and nieces home to a western state in a Yukon XL, and it was a dark and rainy night on I-40 in western TN. We decided that we could make Memphis by midnight. We buzzed OnStar and asked to book a room at the Marriott in the center of the city. The lady from OnStar brought in a Marriott agent on what was now a 3-way call. After confirming the reservation and taking credit card payment, the lady from Marriott offered, “Now, do you need directions?”. At that, the lady from OnStar broke in and said, “Oh, no; I’ll download directions to the car!”. Call ended, and about 30 seconds later we were following the turn-by-turn directions, both by voice and visual prompt, and this was much appreciated as it later guided us through the maze of under-construction freeways in Memphis, and took us straight to the front door.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In 2010, we took a cross-country camping trip from Pgh to San Diego with the minivan, a U-Haul trailer, and 5 kids. We were on a tight 2-week schedule, with a reserved campsite waiting for us each night. So each day was a campaign to reach our destination.

    I wisely printed Mapquest directions in a binder for each day’s journey, in addition to using the GPS. This worked most of the time.

    But the summer of 2010 was a rainy one, with flooding across wide swaths of the US interior. One day in Kansas as the sun was setting and we were desperately trying to make our next campsite, the GPS took us on a strange dirt road past some farms. It ended up being one lane. As we crested a small hill, we saw a lake ahead. As we approached, we saw that the lake had a stop sign barely peering out of it, and the road ran right into it!

    This was my first experience with towing. I had my son get out and guide me in reverse for about 1/8 mile uphill as we found a safe place to turn the rig around and find a new way. Exciting times!

  • avatar
    JimC2

    ” Invariably, she says, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the students point straight up, towards the sky.”

    Oy vey… that’s what happens when you raise a generation of kids who never have to walk more than a hundred feet to their school bus stop. I blame the helicopter parent generation. No, wait, I blame the boomers because they’re the ones who raised the helicopter parent generation.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Speak for your self Jim ;

    My son is the most independent child of a Boomer you’ll ever meet .

    Staunchly Conservative too =8-) .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    tsoden

    A couple instances where Tom-Tom, was completely brainless. In New Brunswick, the GPS was directing us to what was supposed to be a 4 lane highway. We kept following the prompts, but eventually notice our surroundings were not matching up to what Tom-Tom was telling us. The highway has “disappeared, and we were on a two lane paved road, that turned to gravel, that turned to a one lane gravel road. I did not have road for three point turn, so I drove backwards about one kilometer and eventrually got back on track… with the GPS trying to insist we make a legal U-turn for almost 30 KM.

    Other times… the same GPS insisted my left turn was off a bridge (not .5 KM on the other side of it), and one time it tried to direct us into the Atlantic ocean. Needless to say… I was not sad to get rid of this device…Paper maps don’t try to direct you into the ocean.

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