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Defeating 'Death by GPS'


"But it really isn’t the GPS, it’s the maps in their navigation system’s database.

“People are blindly following this GIS [geographic information system] data,” Rick Hamilton, a member of the Civil GPS Service Interface Committee Executive Secretariat, told a September 13 session of the CGSIC. “[GIS-based navigation maps] are getting so good at tying Point A and point B together that they are blindly following this data down roads that barely exist, that were abandoned years ago.”

Drivers have died stuck on remote mountain roads or in deserts. Others have driven onto closed bridges, down animal trails, or into lakes — sometimes with disastrous results. The problem has gotten so bad that the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a campaign to mandate truck guidance systems that are different from automobile guidance systems to help keep them out of places that they’re are not supposed to be, said Hamilton.

Part of the problem is out-of-date maps and users who don’t know to update the maps. But many times critical information was never entered into mapping databases in the first place.

“It is not enough to just enter GIS data into GIS databases anymore. We need to attribute this data,” said Hamilton, who was speaking solely for himself. “We need voice-over software that will give us turn by turn directions that will identify the GIS data as to what it is – a private driveway, a treacherous mountain road or a goat path and warn the users when they make a turn that is not appropriate for the vehicle that they are in. People are dying.”

Yeah tell me about it. The only thing there that I haven't done yet so far is driven into a lake and/or died. The worst thing I did was follow what looked like a nice shortcut through the woods to the beach - and lo and behold I wound up in some sort of secret compound filled up with people with dark glasses and killer eyes right by their shooting range. And then they motioned me over...

Another time I wound up on private road and then the gps signal suddenly stopped - it must have been jammed - and just after I pulled over some mob looking guy pulled in right next to me and asked me what I was doing on that private road...

Yeah, lots of busted up dirt roads and abandoned roads and private roads and very very private roads and roads to nowhere and cliffside roads with one narrow dirt lane and a 500 foot dropoff and hoping against hope that I don't meet someone going the other way...but I have ...Sometimes my GPS seems to love me, sometimes it seems mischievous, like on Rt 46 in New Jersey where it kept saying get off get back on until I figured out its game, and sometimes it seems to hate my guts and want to kill me!


  • Boyd 1960 Points
    I can honestly say that none of those things have happened to me. Yeah, I have been annoyed when I went down a road that was closed or hit a traffic jam. The real problem is "the nut behind the wheel". I'm sorry, but if you're stupid or if you just aren't paying attention, life can be hard. For me, the gps is just a tool, and I mostly use it like the modern equivalent of a paper map.

    If anything, it's a bigger problem of technology in society, which seeks convince us that we can just turn off our brains and let the machines think for us. IMO, that will always end badly.

  • privet01 195 Points
    While I agree with the gist of the article, the only negative things I've experienced while relying on GPS navigation on land is that it sometimes passes up the more direct routes to get me on the interstate in favor of taking a route several blocks longer to get back to the same on ramp.

    While sailing, the more obvious thing is that sometimes, if I were to use it to stay where it showed dead center in the channel, I'd actually be well outside the channel. This isn't a map error either as it's a sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't with channels I frequently travel.

    It' does concern me though that so many of my friends and acquaintances don't seem to be able to understand a paper road map or just simply follow highway signage any more to get from point a to b.

    Spending time making a route and picking POI's the night before a trip just isn't my cup'a tea.
  • Boyd 1960 Points
    edited November 2016
    privet01 said:

    It' does concern me though that so many of my friends and acquaintances don't seem to be able to understand a paper road map

    I have about a mile of little trails on my property, and recently finished a project to map them, as discussed here:

    For fun, I put color-coded markers on all the trails to match the map and printed it up before a visit from my daughter's family. This really captured my 6 year old grandaughter's imagination - which I was hoping for. She caught on immediately and we had a lot of fun exploring the woods and following the map, talking about whether the pink trail was more interesting than the blue trail, or whether the orange or red trails were the shortest way back to the house.

    As we walked around, I would ask her to point where we were on the map and to my surprise she was right most of the time. My daughter was never any good at map reading… although I think that's mainly because she just isn't interested. But my grandaughter said they had learned about maps in school, which I thought was a promising sign. I also have a GPS version of my map that works on my Montana and also iPhone. But the paper map was really a lot more fun and educational.

    I spent a career as a theatrical designer, and an important part of the process is developing a floor plan (a two dimensional "map") and discussing the space with the director. After awhile, it becomes clear that some people immediately comprehend one of these plans, and others (even after many years experience) just don't get it. Unfortuately, this can lead to big problems after the scenery is built, when it doesn't match the director's assumptions.

    So maybe there are two kinds of people? Those who can translate a conceptual two-dimensional representation into three-dimensional reality (type A), and those who cannot (type B). However, a little education and practice can still help. Blindly following GPS spoken directions is a formula for disaster if you're in the type B category. ;)

  • werewolf 107 Points
    " The real problem is "the nut behind the wheel". I'm sorry, but if you're stupid or if you just aren't paying attention..."

    U R pretty smug about this, Boyd, but u haven't been to the places I have.
  • privet01 195 Points
    edited November 2016
    I don't think you can blame the GPS. When I was young, well before GPS, I had easy access to topo maps. Me and friends would find something that looked interesting on the map and try to get there.

    Once we went in search of an old railroad spur that showed on the map but was not part of any railroad track currently being used. Taking my AMC Gremlin, we found an abandoned road that was gated but not locked. We followed that for miles and eventually got my Gremlin stuck in the sandy bottom of a dry creek bed. We tried unsuccessfully for hours to get it out. Eventually if got dark and we had to spend the night there. No food other than some candy bars. Luckily we had a small ice chest full of typical sixteen year old beverage..... beer. Thankfully the melted ice provided water. The next day we were able to hike out and get help.

    So my point with this is that it may not be the fault of the GPS. People get into this problem with or without a GPS. So without a balanced look at the data to see how many people get into the same mess without a GPS, then the cause of the issue might be misplaced.

    IMO, It is as Boyd said.......

    " The real problem is "the nut behind the wheel".

    However just because I think the person that get him/herself into that situation is the responsible party. That doesn't mean that I don't support trying to find ways to better inform them when they are about to be stupid. <<grin>>
  • werewolf 107 Points
    edited November 2016
    Paper maps can get you into trouble too, just the same, and so can people giving you directions, and I've been through all of those too. So then you could say "the real problem is the nut behind the map or listening to the supposed expert on the local roads". Let it go. People can get into trouble from all sorts of misleading information, not just from inaccurate GPS maps.
  • werewolf 107 Points
    Compasses can give false readings too and I've been through that too. The nut behind the compass.
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