published Friday, August 30th, 2013

Readers from around Chattanooga share navigational nightmares of a GPS leading them astray

NAVIGATIONAL NONSENSE

“Had [my GPS] in Florida tell me to turn right, which would be all good and well, if the ocean wasn’t to the right. I looked at my buddy and told him to check the owner’s manual to see if the rental had a boat mode.”

— Chris Tapley, Chattanooga

“Once, in Puerto Rico, a GPS turned me into four lanes of oncoming traffic. The sidewalk was my friend. I definitely went back to paper maps and made the rental car company give [me] my money back.”

— Dennis Norwood, Chattanooga

“A delivery man ended up driving over a 4,000-foot mountain in the Cohutta wilderness area because the ‘box’ [GPS] showed it was less mileage from Atlanta to my house. He was scared to death when he got to my place. I told them to follow my directions, but the ‘box’ said it was shorter. It didn’t tell him there was no [phone] service and that there were rough dirt roads for 20 miles. I think he was hearing the ‘Deliverance’ soundtrack in his mind the whole way.”

— Patricia McClurd, Atlanta

“Drove an hour into the woods someone deep in Nowhere, Tenn., trying to get to an Advance Auto Parts store to replace [the store’s] networking equipment. After driving over an hour [using GPS] with no other turns in sight, the asphalt just ended. Not curb, no signs for the past hour — just forest. I was late to that job, but happy I had filled my gas tank.”

— Brandon Oxendine, Chattanooga

“While my husband and I were on vacation on Edisto Island, S.C., we took a day trip to Charleston, [which was] about an hour or two away. We wanted to stop by a McDonald’s on the way, so we searched for ‘food’ on the GPS and chose Mickey D’s. Instead of getting breakfast, our Garmin took us to a vacant lot in a subdivision on a golf course. Fail.”

— Taryn Painter, Chattanooga

“In Atlanta looking for a Chick-fil-A, both the Garmin and the internal GPS of my van put me in the middle of the projects and said ‘You have arrived at your destination.’ No Chick-fil-A that night.”

— Annette Gray, Chattanooga

“I was trying to find a shop I had never been to before. Put it into Google Maps on my phone, drove around and it said, ‘Turn left in 50 feet.’ I was on a bridge that was at least 100 feet. Needless to say, the GPS didn’t know where it was. Also, [occasionally] … the GPS thinks you are someplace other than where you are, and it start naming off streets to turn onto and they are not the streets you’re passing.”

— John Spencer, Chattanooga

“I’ve never used my phone’s GPS for a long trip, but I can understand how they can be wrong. You can search Google Maps and … see where roads are connected when in reality they do not. Some roads don’t show up at all.”

— Lucas Hoffman, Chattanooga

“I was using my phone’s GPS to get to the nearest Target when visiting family in New Jersey a couple of years ago. It took me to a sort-of abandoned, old, industrial area.”

— Sujata Singh, Ooltewah

“On our way to Florida, we ended up crossing railroad tracks that went to nowhere and turning onto a dirt road that just stopped. We did everything ‘she’ [the GPS] said!”

— Donna Montgomery, Cleveland, Tenn.

“I had one try and take me down a cow path in the woods.” — Chris Haddock, Ringgold, Ga.

“A few years ago, we were headed to a niece’s wedding. We were coming from vacation [with] five tired, unruly children and three just-tired adults. We ended up 60 minutes away from where we should have been. Why? Because there are two roads in Georgia with exactly the same name. [My husband] Bill still hates GPS to this day.”

— Ellen Barnes Dodrill, Chattanooga

Earlier this year, Katie and Adam Pridemore were driving their Chevy HHR station wagon from Chattanooga to Athens, Ga., when their co-pilot issued a sudden, unexpected order to turn right.

The couple was relying on directions provided by the Google Maps iPhone app, but the small, unmarked road their robotic-voiced navigator ordered them to take seemed to be decidedly off-course.

Confused, if still confident in the accuracy of the app’s global positioning system, they obligingly left the highway. As it turned out, they weren’t being directed to a hidden shortcut to shave time off their journey, says Dr. Pridemore, who received her doctorate in mathematics earlier this month.

Apparently, Google Maps decided they needed a pick-me-up.

“We looked up and saw a beautiful baby deer right in front of us,” she recalls in an email. “The GPS lady then proceeded to direct us back to the main road and on with our journey. It was pretty weird. I don’t remember selecting the wildlife GPS package.”

Pridemore says she and her husband consider the incident a fluke. And, like many drivers who have experienced GPS misdirection, they continue to rely on turn-by-turn navigation and have forgiven the navigator for “her” slip-up.

“She had never really led us astray prior to the deer incident,” Pridemore says. “Most of the time we still trust her. Honestly, after the deer incident, I feel like she may be trying to show us things when her directions aren’t what they should be.”

For all their useful features — frequently updated maps, traffic notifications, directions to the nearest gas station, hibachi grill or Baby Gap outlet — GPS systems can lead to trouble if relied upon exclusively.

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Tokyo published a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology on how GPS affects orienteering. The study asked a group of participants to navigate on foot with a GPS-equipped mobile phone, a paper map or by memory after being shown the route beforehand. The study found that those equipped with a GPS took more steps, walked more slowly and demonstrated less spatial awareness than the other participants.

Yet technology-assisted navigation has become an integral part of life, especially since the advent of GPS-equipped smart phone age.

When Apple released version 6.0 of its iOS mobile operating system last September, the update included a new navigational app that no longer was powered by competitor Google’s mapping database. The resulting Apple program was rife with glitches, from including locations for buildings that no longer exist and mislabling cities to more drastic errors, such as placing Berlin at the center of Antarctica.

Police in Mildura, Australia, even went so far as to describe Apple Maps as “potentially life-threatening” due to its tendency to direct visitors away from the town’s actual location to a destination more 40 miles off course in the middle of the barren outback.

The app’s numerous flaws were a black eye for the company, drawing criticism from outlets such as CNN, Business Insider and Gizmodo, which placed Apple Maps at the top of its list of “The 10 Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of 2012.” Within weeks, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology to the company’s customers and suggested alternate apps for those who wanted more accuracy.

Despite the minor GPS snafus that cause more irritation than actual danger, many people continue to rely on turn-by-turn navigation to find their way around. In the Pridemores’ case, they were merely sidetracked by squirrely GPS, but other locals responding to a Facebook post say they have been almost stranded — or worse — when their systems malfunctioned.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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