I'll never forget when one of my first GPS units told me to drive off the Dog River Bridge. We were at the top of the bridge and told to turn right -- right then and there! The River Shack restaurant really was to our right, about 100 feet below us. But for the sake of survival, we decided to get to the other side of the bridge first and then take a left onto the road that would really take us there.
GPS misleads us fairly regularly. There's the infamous story of a bus driver who followed GPS underneath a bridge that was a bit low for the bus. And in case you're wondering, the GPS unit was supposedly set to account for the height of the bus.
In another instance, a driver followed his GPS to a goat trail (yes, literally!). He followed the trail for awhile until he could go no further; and eventually he and his van had to be airlifted. There's also the time when three Japanese tourists drove their GPS-enabled rental car into the sea.
Doesn't anyone refer to their maps anymore?
The latest instance of blindly following the GPS happened in Colorado, near Denver International Airport. Nearly 100 people let Google Maps take them down a muddy road to avoid an accident on the interstate, and then got stuck. Those who weren't stuck couldn't back up, because the gravel track was too narrow and others had also blindly followed Google Maps behind them on this road to nowhere.
This is where common sense failed. Even if you're following a road (and other cars down it), shouldn't a voice in your head be asking if this is really going to work? Denver7 News traffic reporter Jayson Luber says people have gotten too dependent on smart phones and GPS instead of maps: "You're driving! Google Maps isn't driving, Google Maps isn't perfect. You need to know where you're going." A quick look at a physical map, or even taking a close look at the map on the app (not just asking it for directions) would have provided some alternates, and certainly better choices than this.
We've all done this, and I'm not immune to being overly dependent on GPS. My typical GPS error happens when I'm 90% sure of the exit, but pass it anyway because that's what I thought the GPS wanted me to do. Blind obedience! A map, or my own brain, would have been helpful in those situations -- if only I'd have listened.
On road trips or whenever I'm in unfamiliar territory, I always have a map handy for quick reference. It's nice to have the lay of the land anyway, and see what's around. But it's also a necessary GPS assistant. A real paper map gives the big picture, a chance to really look at where the GPS would like to send me. Then, and only then, I'll decide it I'll be going that way or not.
Another idea is to use multiple GPS apps and get a 2nd or 3rd opinion. I usually start with my car's GPS, but we'll also ask Google (and/or Apple or Mapquest). If they all agree, you're probably on the right path. But if you're getting vastly different responses, then it's even more important to put your common sense to work.