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What Your GPS Doesn’t Know May Hurt You!

by Mary Chong
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Your GPS tells you to turn left and turn right but can you really trust that seemingly smart, polite woman, talking to you from that little box strapped to your dashboard?

I don’t know about you, but GPS Sally is constantly getting me lost and she keeps recalculating… recalculating… recalculating

I’m reminded of a news program on TV about three women who used their GPS while visiting Death Valley National Park. It was a day trip so they only packed a few bottles of water with them and very little food. They had no paper maps of the area and nobody knew that they were going to visit the park.

Following the directions of their GPS, they were guided to an unused part of the park, well off of the main road and as they continued driving and circling around and around, day became night and they ran out of gas.

There was no cell phone signal. The next day the temperature rose to a whopping 100°F.

What Your GPS Doesn't Know May Hurt You!

As I was watching the program it brought back my own memories of a drive through Death Valley National Park when we mis-timed sundown (not too calculated for this traveller right?). Let me tell you, it was pitch black on the road with no street lights and then a sandstorm started. We were so scared but at least we had headlights, gas, we knew where we were and where we were going….

But back to our original story…

They managed to miraculously survive out in the desert by finding water and shelter in an unused trailer before finally being rescued 3 days later.

There are lots of GPS horror stories out there…just do a Google search and you’ll see pages and pages of them.

CT Road Trip Tip Subscribe

Don’t trust your GPS blindly.

I like to know where I’m going before leaving the house.

I can’t stress this enough but you should always make sure that your GPS, be it a portable unit or one built directly into your car, has the most up-to-date maps loaded into the software.

What Your GPS Doesn't Know May Hurt You!

If I’m going on a road trip or driving somewhere unfamiliar near home, I prefer to plot out my route ahead of time, using AAA / CAA triptiks and/or maps.

With highlighter in hand, I mark the most direct route and use my GPS while driving to confirm that I’m on the right track.

If you don’t belong to an auto club, you can also print out maps and directions from various websites such as Google Maps or Yahoo Maps. I get a map of the entire region, then local area maps with turn by turn directions.

A good idea is to also have a compass in your car.

Isn’t there an app for that?

There all kinds of map and navigational apps available for your cell phone. I think they are great for when you are in a major city and have a vague idea of the area. But if you are on a road trip, in my opinion, you are using 1 form of technology as a backup for another form of technology. What if they are both wrong? What if they conflict? Which is right? What if you don’t have satellite signal, or run out of power….

Sometimes, it’s best to rock it old-school with plain old pen and paper.

What Your GPS Doesn't Know May Hurt You! by CalculatedTraveller.com

Drive with your EYES wide OPEN

If you are going to listen to GPS Sally, or Cindy or Lucy…make sure that your GPS is up-to-date with the latest maps and software for the region that you are travelling. Pay attention to signs and the rules of the road.

Most importantly…stay safe on the road and have fun!

Have you been led astray by your GPS? I’d love to hear your story… join the discussion.

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gps tracking devices June 18, 2013 - 1:45 am

GPS systems also have the ability to function as a hands-free device for your cell phone, and all GPS systems can help you tell emergency workers exactly where you are should you be involved in an automobile accident. The only disadvantage is that people focus on GPS more than road, I mean from accident.

Teresa May 15, 2013 - 8:25 pm

Great article. I definitely get so annoyed at my GiGi (short for Garmin Girl) that I leave her on mute all the time. That annoying “recalculating” could turn an otherwise mellow, calm person into a raving lunatic pretty quickly! I consider myself a little old school and prefer to read a map and/or use google maps in advance to preview my route and write down the highlights to follow. My preferred method when exploring a new US destination is just to drive freestyle and use GiGi to get me back “home” at the end of the day.

Kelli June 26, 2013 - 1:14 pm

It’s amazing how resilient GiGi is though. She once made me so enraged I yanked her off the dash holder-thing and then threw her against the window.

But she kept right on recalculating…

Mary Chong June 26, 2013 - 1:44 pm

Great comment Kelli! That Gigi is one tough cookie! lol

Mary Chong April 8, 2013 - 9:14 am

Just thought I’d add to the discussion that on a recent road trip we were stuck in major traffic on the interstate. Without our paper map we would not have discovered a country side road that ran parallel to the highway. Saved us an estimated 1.5 hours moving at a snail’s pace…

Alouise April 1, 2013 - 5:18 pm

Oh wow that would be so scary to be lost in a place like Death Valley. I remember a couple years ago there was a story about an older couple from BC who got lost down a logging road in Nevada (I think). Sadly I believe the man died when he left to get help. I don’t know if the reason why they got lost was because of a GPS error, or something else, but it certainly highlights why it’s important to have a paper map to a GPS backup, especially if you’ll be going somewhere remote.

I bought a GPS last year, and learned in Moose Jaw that it’s good enough in town, to get to the general area where I need to go, but it’s certainly not something I’d put 100% of my trust in. Being a road trip nerd I kind of love preplotting out routes on Google Maps, and I have a CAA membership so I make sure to buy maps and guidebooks for the places I’ll be traveling through and stopping at.

Itsworththedrive April 1, 2013 - 11:00 am

Sound advice!

I frequently don’t believe my GPS and then have to suffer through the mocking recalculating experience…

My GPS has indeed “lied” to me in the past leaving me nowhere near my intended destination, but it has also saved my bacon when I have wondered way off the beaten path…

Martin Wigginton April 1, 2013 - 9:52 am

Great tip Mary. One other aspect to this that I found out on a recent trip was that if you use your phone as a GPS you can drain the battery completely, even if it’s plugged in (the phone accessing maps, using GPS, and staying connected to the network, all at the same time). This means that you could end up with no phone to call for help when you are lost and your battery is dead in the car. Not a likely scenario, but best to avoid by using a dedicated GPS and keep your phone for the walking tours and about town stuff.


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