GPS Failure Could Mean Disaster

One couple is lucky to be home safe and sound in Reno right now. They credit the fact that they always travel prepared for being alive and healthy. John and Starry Rhoads always travel by car with food, water and warm clothing packed in the trunk. This time, it proved to literally save their lives when their GPS led them astray.

The couple was traveling home to Reno from a visit in Portland. They were driving on Highway 31, which goes through Silver Lake Orgeon. The GPS unit told them to turn right onto a forest service road. They followed that, as well as some smaller spur roads, about 35 miles. Their SUV then became stuck in over a foot of snow.

For nearly three days, neither John nor Starry had any reception on their cell phones, so they couldn’t call for help. On the third day, a freak of nature (or change in the atmosphere) caused them to suddenly have weak signals. They took turns calling 911. Emergency crews were able to use the phones’ GPS tracking to locate the Rhoads’ and pull their truck out of the snow. They then returned safely to Reno.

We rely so much on devices such as the GPS. Sure, they give us the shortest route. But is it always the safest route? In this instance, the answer is unequivocally no. I know it doesn’t happen often, but one life lost would be one life too many.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that we perhaps rely a little too heavily on automated devices like this to get us from point A to point B in our lives?

7 thoughts on “GPS Failure Could Mean Disaster”

  1. This reminds me of a story I heard about a while back. People were using GPS to get to Yellowstone National park, but their GPS was leading them to a obscure back road that eventually ended at a locked gate.

    Some good patron eventually made a sign on the road that said “Heading to Yellowstone via GPS? Turn around, follow route…” and proceeded with the rest of the correct directions.

    I would like to believe that even more people would get lost without GPS then with it, but what I want to believe may not be the case.

  2. Yes, a huge issue indeed. And sometimes the new streets or road changes are not updated fast enough in many areas of the nation, so while the technology is awesome, it’s also completely problematic. Scary stuff, but excellent article and posting, this is a serious challenge.

  3. Only an idiot relies on GPS mapping software to that degree.
    As an individual who has spent some 30+ years either working or traveling in the Australian outback, I wouldn’t trust one to show me a safe route to anywhere.
    OK, maybe down to the corner store – and that’s only 500m away.
    The authors of the software have yet to be find liable for the failings in their product so near enough is good enough. Once someone finds themselves on the wrong end of an expensive law suit the quality of the software and in particular the decision making within will improve dramatically.
    By all means use the location fix capabilities of GPS to verify your own calculated position but always use two more things – a good map and a brain.

  4. Sounds like gps and a good survival kit saved their lives by providing accurate location data for the emergency services to respond quickly and the means to hold out until rescued. Where they went astray, was to rely on navigation software that isn’t designed to be a primary navigation tool… but rather a navigation aid. Winter detours down unfamiliar Forest Service roads often end in disaster for the unprepared!

  5. I drive for a living here in the UK and we have TomTom software built-in to the PDA that receives the despatch details and, I have to say, I really only use it as a guide, as I do have a fair amount of local knowledge. I usually do it the old-fashioned way and hoist out a map to give me a decent idea of where I’m supposed to be going. Very rarely do I rely on it completely. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by how accurate it can be and on other occasions I wonder what the hell it’s up to! It’s only as good as the database, of course, and if the destination (for example) of an isolated house miles from anywhere on a long country road is not in there, it just ain’t gonna work! Post codes (zip to our American friends) don’t always work, either.

  6. The GPS systems I am familiar with, allow you to choose “fastest” or “shortest” routes. If you choose “shortest”, it will literally take you the shortest route. If you choose “fastest”, then it will usually stick to the roads with the highest speed limits, i.e. the freeways. As evidenced by this event, selecting “shortest” route can be dangerous. One once tried to take me through an Air Force Base and on to the active runway. My advice, select the “fastest” route, it’s usually safer.

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