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Transportation United States Technology

'Death By GPS' Increasing In America's Wilderness 599

Posted by timothy
from the waiting-for-death-valley's-seasonal-ferry dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Every year, more and more Americans are dying in deserts and wildernesses because they rely on their GPS units (and, to some degree, their cellphones) to always be accurate. The Sacramento Bee quotes Death Valley wilderness coordinator Charlie Callagan: 'It's what I'm beginning to call death by GPS ... People are renting vehicles with GPS and they have no idea how it works and they are willing to trust the GPS to lead them into the middle of nowhere.'"
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'Death By GPS' Increasing In America's Wilderness

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  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:33PM (#35094156)
    Come on, folks, you're traveling between Portland OR and Las Vegas NV, and your GPS says the most direct route is over some gravel Forest Service road in the Eastern Oregon mountains... In the winter... You take it? Really?

    Your GPS takes you down some deserted desert road that peters away into sand in the mifddle of Death Valley... Really?

    There's not much you can do about MORONS, one way or another, they may kill themselves.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sznupi (719324)
      Though that's also a deceit (effectively) by the GPS unit / their manufacturers don't tend to advertise their capabilities as "may be wrong" (and how can random people know up front?)

      Related: some solutions could stop insisting on loading the needed data only at the start of a particular journey. Allowing to have recent and fairly good offline maps of large areas, also where there's no cellular signal, would really help with the whole concept of GPS...
      • by corsec67 (627446) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:53PM (#35094522) Homepage Journal

        their manufacturers don't tend to advertise their capabilities as "may be wrong"

        All of the Garmin Nuvi GPS units I have had have a warning screen that shows every single time that it is turned on saying this.

        This probably is more a feature of people liking to be getting orders, even when those orders are wrong.

        Not to say that I am immune. I have found my self going down roads where if my GPS quit I would only have a vague idea of how to get home from that location.

        • by iamhassi (659463)
          "All of the Garmin Nuvi GPS units I have had have a warning screen that shows every single time that it is turned on saying this."

          My TomTom doesn't do that... does that mean Garmin assumes their buyers are stupider or that TomTom isn't worried about being sued?
          • by afidel (530433)
            It probably doesn't cross their mind as they are a European company and such a lawsuit would most likely fail.
          • Assuming that everyone is stupid isn't a bad thing in this day and age.

            I grew up with a father who taught me how to read maps, read wind, navigate via the stars, etc. My dad was a sailor from a young age, as I was. Maybe this is why even without a warning on a GPS/phone I wouldn't trust it over maps and local knowledge. I live in Australia where we laugh at tourists who drive off into the desert and have themselves killed due to not taking extra fuel, water, and the like. Being so sparsely populated does me

          • by Sulphur (1548251)

            "All of the Garmin Nuvi GPS units I have had have a warning screen that shows every single time that it is turned on saying this."

            My TomTom doesn't do that... does that mean Garmin assumes their buyers are stupider or that TomTom isn't worried about being sued?

            If the bodies self dispose, then the suit is more difficult.

        • by icebike (68054) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:42PM (#35095332)

          their manufacturers don't tend to advertise their capabilities as "may be wrong"

          All of the Garmin Nuvi GPS units I have had have a warning screen that shows every single time that it is turned on saying this.

          This probably is more a feature of people liking to be getting orders, even when those orders are wrong.

          Not to say that I am immune. I have found my self going down roads where if my GPS quit I would only have a vague idea of how to get home from that location.

          You seem to be confusing real dashboard GPS units with cellphones.

          They are far from the same. A typical Dashboard GPS has all the maps onboard.
          They also offers route defaults that favor major roads (shortest time), and these never lead you into trouble other than temporary weather or construction delays. Maps may become obsolete over several years. Roads just don't change that frequently.

          And these dashboard units are seldom ever "Wrong" as to your location, and don't rely on any cellular signals. There are the occasional blind spots (city canyons), but these are temporary. If you go thru a tunnel you may lose signals, but the better GPS units realize this, and realize you really can't get lost in a tunnel, and simply revert to estimation till you emerge from the tunnel.

          As for wide open desert spaces, the dashboard GPS units don't fail. Common sense fails.

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:58PM (#35094622) Homepage
        Plain ol maps don't tell you they 'may be wrong' either. It comes with the territory. No matter what you are using for a guide - maps, mystic revelations, signs from God - you still still have to look out the windshield and think occasionally. In the Olden Days when I did Search and Rescue in Colorado we didn't have GPS. We had maps. And we ended up pulling out idiots from all sorts of places because the 'map told them' they could get from one abandoned mining town to another over a 13000 foot pass in a Volkswagen.

        And your second wish has been granted. There are a number of iPhone apps which do allow you to download maps before you head out. Very classy. Garmin ought to be scared - the iPhone is a hell of a lot better GPS than my Oregon 400: better display, better GPS chip, better battery life (really!). The only advantage that the Garmin has is that it's completely waterproof and I can carry a passle of AA batteries with me.
    • Yes some people really are that stupid, I heard on the news of someone who drove into a body of water (not sure if it was a river the lake or the sea) because their GPS didn't indicate it was a ferry link rather than a road. Don't remember whether they died or not but it shows how stupid people can be.

      A bigger problem over here in old blighty is articulated lorries getting stuck by driving down roads that are too narrow or otherwise unsuitable. One big problem in this case is it's virtually impossible to tu

      • I have read a few cases of people driving into bodies of water and buildings. I cannot fathom how someone would just drive into water. I suspect they drove off the road because they were fidgeting with the GPS or something else instead of looking at the road, and then blamed the GPS

      • by plover (150551) * on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:01PM (#35094696) Homepage Journal

        A bigger problem over here in old blighty is articulated lorries getting stuck by driving down roads that are too narrow or otherwise unsuitable. One big problem in this case is it's virtually impossible to turn a lorry on a narrow road. So if the road starts looking bad the choices are to carry on and hope they don't get stuck, try to reverse out (very slow and likely to require a second person) or tow the lorry out.

        In America, there are GPS maps created by commercial services for sale to the trucking industry. These maps include weight restrictions, width and height restrictions, truck routes, diesel fuel truck stops, tire and service centers, all kinds of information that is specific to the driving of big rigs. I would assume you have similar services available over there. But if your ordinary trucker thinks he can just drop a $99 Garmin on his dashboard and use it to drag a 30 tonne trailer to wherever he wants, well, that's almost as foolish as trying to cross two hundred miles of desert because there's a little blue line on the screen.

        • by farnz (625056) <slashdot@NoSPAm.farnz.org.uk> on Thursday February 03, 2011 @05:39PM (#35096274) Homepage Journal

          A bigger problem over here in old blighty is articulated lorries getting stuck by driving down roads that are too narrow or otherwise unsuitable. One big problem in this case is it's virtually impossible to turn a lorry on a narrow road. So if the road starts looking bad the choices are to carry on and hope they don't get stuck, try to reverse out (very slow and likely to require a second person) or tow the lorry out.

          In America, there are GPS maps created by commercial services for sale to the trucking industry. These maps include weight restrictions, width and height restrictions, truck routes, diesel fuel truck stops, tire and service centers, all kinds of information that is specific to the driving of big rigs. I would assume you have similar services available over there. But if your ordinary trucker thinks he can just drop a $99 Garmin on his dashboard and use it to drag a 30 tonne trailer to wherever he wants, well, that's almost as foolish as trying to cross two hundred miles of desert because there's a little blue line on the screen.

          The same class of GPS map is sold in the UK; the problem is that they cost more than the cheap car GPS units. Taking Garmin as a sample manufacturer, the cheapest car unit they sell here is £99. The cheapest truck unit is £259. A trucker buying a GPS unit on his own dime because he's a bit unsure about how best to get to his destination, but isn't brave enough to ask the office to get the maps out is going to buy the £99 unit. And then he's going to foul up; if it wasn't such a problem for the rest of us, it'd just be funny.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        It doesn't help that in britan we identify our roads based on how important they are in the network, not generally on how big they are.

        Yes, but we also have things like big roadside warning signs if a road is unsuitable for e.g. tall or wide vehicles. If drivers choose to ignore these, it is hard to see what else could be done apart from taking their licence off them.

    • The less apt individuals don't pass on their genes. That's the whole point of the Darwin Awards [darwinawards.com].
      • by H0p313ss (811249)

        The less apt individuals don't pass on their genes. That's the whole point of the Darwin Awards [darwinawards.com].

        Is there some fund or organization that I can contribute to that will distribute GPS devices to morons^H^H^H^H^H^H disadvantaged families?

        • by Culture20 (968837)

          The less apt individuals don't pass on their genes. That's the whole point of the Darwin Awards.

          Is there some fund or organization that I can contribute to that will distribute GPS devices to morons^H^H^H^H^H^H disadvantaged families?

          Disadvantaged families don't take hiking trips into hostile terrain (with exception of illegal immigrants from Mexico), so they'd just sell them to middle class folk and the middle classers would die.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Yep. Natural selection is still alive & well - assisted by computers giving bad directions. Reminds me of that Office episode:

      GPS: "Turn here."
      "Michael that's a lake!"
      "But the GPS said turn here, so I'm turning here."
      (vroom) - (splash)

      When I was in Salt Lake city I tried to take an old road parallel to I-80, but when it started beating my car's suspension said "Screw this" and turned around. You have to use the computer God put in your frakking head!

    • There's not much you can do about MORONS, one way or another, they may kill themselves.

      Nature has been killing the ill-prepared for as long as there have been humans. Why do you think her opposite is called Nurture?
    • Over here in Britain, there's been several stories about people who've followed the GPS directions into a body of water.

      Google it ..."gps drive into lake". Seems to be a worldwide phenomenon.

    • by quenda (644621)

      There's not much you can do about MORONS, one way or another, they may kill themselves.

      Yep, anyone who leaves the city without maps, sextant and chronometer deserves what they get.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Friday February 04, 2011 @04:01AM (#35101452) Journal
      I'd like to stress out that as a western European tourist, I didn't have the notion that there could be lethal wilderness in a developed country the first time I went to US. Of course now I understand the scale of it but please keep in mind that the idea you can get stuck somewhere more than a day of walk from a town is uncommon for some foreigners.
  • by Kenja (541830)
    You call it "Death by GPS" I call it "evolution".
  • My ex-girlfriend got stuck on a road last winter because her GPS took her up a summer only road that was for snowmobiles in the winter. The GPS didn't know the difference. We had to get a buddy's big pickup truck to come crank her our of a snowdrift.

    • Is she your ex-girlfriend because you realized that someone who doesn't notice snow on the road ahead isn't the sharpest pencil in the drawer?
      • No, she's his ex because when I rescued her from the snow she realized she didn't want to be with someone who couldn't protect her.
    • by plover (150551) * on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:18PM (#35094960) Homepage Journal

      So if you're up there on those wintery roads and bored out of your mind, try this: Drive your OnStar equipped vehicle to the middle of a large frozen lake. Press the button. Continue driving in straight lines, occasionally stopping to make square left and right hand turns. Talk to the nice lady from India (or Southern California) who has never seen ice in any amount larger than a water pitcher, and tell her you're kind of lost.

      • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:45PM (#35095364) Homepage Journal

        Talk to the nice lady from India (or Southern California) who has never seen ice in any amount larger than a water pitcher, and tell her you're kind of lost.

        No need to work that hard, just do what I did. Run out of gas in West Texas, say between Childress and Quanah [goo.gl]. Make it on a sunny 100-degree-plus Sunday afternoon in the middle of summer. You, too, can have a conversation with OnStar like I did!

        Me (sheepish): I ran out of gas.
        OnStar: We'll send someone right out.

        Time passes...

        OnStar: Sir, we show you near Childress, Texas, but I don't have any facilities there. What's the nearest larger town?
        Me: This is West Texas, Ma'm. There are no larger towns.

        They ended up sending out the county sheriff with a five-gallon jug of gas.

  • i couldn't navigate until Platoon Leader's Development Course in the US Army and now i can look at any map and find my way easily. never use a GPS. even learned to navigate using the terrain in a few days.

    half the battle is just looking at your watch and the sun to figure out where north, south, east and west are

    • by causality (777677)

      i couldn't navigate until Platoon Leader's Development Course in the US Army and now i can look at any map and find my way easily. never use a GPS. even learned to navigate using the terrain in a few days.

      half the battle is just looking at your watch and the sun to figure out where north, south, east and west are

      It wasn't difficult to learn how to use a map and compass and then to learn several ways to find general directions without a compass. Until I learned those things, plus some (very basic) survival skills, I felt I had no business hiking and backpacking. I have no idea why anyone would believe that they are somehow exempt from this self-evident truth. Nor do I understand why anyone believes they can perform a task at which they are incompetent and expect good results, to the point where they are willing t

    • half the battle is just looking at your watch and the sun to figure out where north, south, east and west are

      Squints at digital readout on watch. "This wasn't covered in my Boy Scout manual. Where's the damn hour hand?"

  • Darwin at work. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:39PM (#35094282) Journal
    Sorry if I sound unsympathetic... but really, who starts to drive through a large unpopulated expanse of land without at least making sure they have enough gas to make it across? I've seen "Last Chance" gas stations before, and in my experience they are totally serious... dare I even say deadly serious. If you don't fill up there, you can very well not expect to ever see another human being again for as long as you live... which might not be very long from now if you decide that you have enough gas just because your low gas indicator isn't lit.
    • Sorry if I sound unsympathetic... but really, who starts to drive through a large unpopulated expanse of land without at least making sure they have enough gas to make it across?

      Sorry if I sound unsympathetic, but really, who posts a Slashdot comment without reading the article...oh, never mind.

      The article doesn't mention anyone running out of fuel. It talks about people who followed (or possibly mis-followed) directions from the GPS units and drove onto private, closed, rough, or unmaintained roads deep in the desert wilderness and then got stuck. If you want to lecture these people about anything, it should be over their failure to carry enough water before entering the dese

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        I'd say the biggest mistake was not gas nor water, but in not stopping at a truck stop and talking to an experienced trucker beforehand. I've found the safest bet from getting to point B from point A without ending up in the middle of the damned sticks is to just talk to a long haul trucker that has been running them roads since before you were born.

        They ain't gonna run down no shitty "bob's road" if there are any other roads available because it will beat the hell out of the rig, they know where the food

    • by Chelloveck (14643)

      It works the other way, too. Last summer my family and I were driving across Wyoming. And not on some dinky little back road, either but on I-90. We drove past a gas station and I glanced at my gas gauge. A little under 1/4 tank left, probably a good 60 or 70 miles. I kept on going, planning to stop in 45 miles or so.

      About 20 miles later I told the GPS to find me a gas station along my current route. There isn't one, it said. Not for another 80 miles. I told it to look for the nearest station in any

  • Seen this (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DCFusor (1763438) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:42PM (#35094342) Homepage
    Or close enough. Not long ago I had a trucker come to my door, out of breath, having stuck his tractor at the bottom of the hill I live near the top of, being brought this way by MapQuest and GPS. Nothing special you say...well, evidently those services thought a 1 lane gravel road going straight up a mountain (in SW VA), complete with cliffs, deep ditches, and short radius turns was a perfectly fine route to send this dupe on. Believe me, there are plenty of small cars that don't make it on that road, and it took "the million dollar wrecker" many hours to extract this guy, probably cost him his job on top of it.
    .

    Now, the real question was actually even how he got as far as he did. He'd had to go up and down and around for a couple miles of almost-that-bad road to get where he got stuck in a place utterly obvious a tractor couldn't go -- it was longer and straighter than the distance between two hairpins near the bottom of that hill, and driving skill at that point made no difference. I'd have to suppose this guy didn't realize that it was pointless, and that even an hour of carefully backing up the way he came would be a better plan -- there is no place to turn one of these.
    .

    What is truly hilarious is that he would only have saved two miles (out of 10-15) doing this over simply using the main, paved roads -- this was a "shortcut", and the way no one goes who knows the roads here -- too hard on the vehicle to be worth saving the miles, and you save no gas at all.
    .

    So yeah, it took both driver ignorance AND a lousy GPS to get there, but it seems both were willin'.

    • Re:Seen this (Score:4, Informative)

      by guruevi (827432) <<evi> <at> <smokingcube.be>> on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:38PM (#35095264) Homepage

      You know there are specific Truck/Professional GPS units available? Off course they don't cost $50 but closer to $500 for the same 7" but the maps are specifically laid out for big rigs, hazmat and other restrictions to the roads that might come along on a cross-country drive. It seems to me that trucker probably wouldn't have been helped with a map either because he would've seen a shorter route on the map regardless.

      The whole country (at least the US) is mapped and all restrictions on the roads (height, width, weight, curvature) are known by the government and private mapping companies. Those databases literally take up Terabytes and have to get condensed into usable information on a 4Gig data card, not something you can put in the simplest GPS units just yet.

  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:45PM (#35094384)

    I was in the US Coast Guard from roughly 1990 to 2000, and GPS quickly became a very popular alternative to the older LORAN-C system used by recreational & commercial boaters alike. I did a number of patrols in Boston Harbor, which has a few very shallow spots in it. There are a couple places in particular where there are rocks just below the surface of the water at low tide, but if you have even the most basic level of understanding aids to navigation (bouys, etc) it's very easy to avoid those spots. There's one spot south of Logan Airport called "lower middle" that has rocks just below the waterline, but well marked channels guide boaters well around both sides of it.

    I still clearly recall one summer day when we were on patrol and saw a small boat moving slowly through lower middle, pretty much directly toward where we knew the rocks were. We sped towards them as quickly as we could and tried to get their attention, but before we could we saw the unmistakable result of their boat hitting the rocks at a slow speed - the boat lurched a bit and the back kicked up noticeably. By the time we got close enough to them without putting our own boat in danger we could see oil starting to leak out around their engine.

    When we told the operator that he was well outside the marked channels and that he had struck a rock that's clearly marked on all navigation charts, he simply replied, "Well my GPS told me to turn left here."

    • by radtea (464814) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:12PM (#35094872)

      When we told the operator that he was well outside the marked channels and that he had struck a rock that's clearly marked on all navigation charts, he simply replied, "Well my GPS told me to turn left here."

      I grew up living on a rocky point with reefs offshore in an area with 16 foot tides, and every couple of years my father and brother and I would rescue boaters who'd run aground. This was back when LORAN was still pretty new and GPS undreamed of, but the universal feature of people who hit the rocks was that the only navigation aid on board was--at best--a road map.

      A big part of the problem is that people are simply ignorant. If you didn't grow up in an area or haven't lived there for a long time it can be hard to appreciate the risks. And most people grow up in urban or suburban areas that effectively have no (natural) risks at all. People like that simply don't know enough to appreciate that the landscape and climate can kill them if they don't take the appropriate precautions. GPS is just an enabling device that helps that ignorance get them killed: it creates an illusion of safety and certainty that they might otherwise not have, although according to the article people were plenty able to get into trouble without it.

      • by afidel (530433)
        Yep, my dad and I probably saved a guy and his two sons. They were climbing on Mt Whitney in tshirts and sandals and only one flashlight between them. He was there well after dark trying to climb down. We asked him why they didn't have proper equipment and he said he had no idea it would be like that! We had about 5k worth of equipment with us because while it might be overkill it would probably keep us alive through anything we were going to experience there during the summer months. Btw even when I do use
    • by starfishsystems (834319) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:13PM (#35094884) Homepage
      Any competent navigator knows to treat GPS as a tool for verifying where you are. Period.

      Unless all other means of verification (visual, compass, sextant, RDF, depth sounder, radar, LORAN, dead reckoning) are unavailable, you should never rely on GPS alone.

      Boaters should be particularly suspicious of GPS devices which instruct them to "take next exit right after overpass".
      • by david.given (6740)

        Any competent navigator knows to treat GPS as a tool for verifying where you are.

        Once when sailing with my father in his 7m yacht last year, in Lochcarron, Scotland, I wanted to find our position and without thinking about it grabbed the hand-bearing compass and took a couple of bearings before plotting our location on the chart --- totally forgetting that we had a GPS. The whole process took about 20 seconds. Habit, I suppose (and a good one to get into).

        Incidentally, I can recommend to anyone with an in

      • Any competent navigator knows to treat GPS as a tool for verifying where you are. Period.

        Except technology can easily fail, and even fail silently, so you need to know how to tell when something like your GPS isn't working properly and how to use something low tech like a compass since its batteries will never die.

        Another quick anecdote on how technology can easily (and silently) fail - back around the time I was in Boston I heard a story on the news about a cruise ship that was sailing up the coast from Florida. Somewhere off the coast of Cape Cod it ran aground on a sandbar. The problem in

  • by Lucas123 (935744) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:46PM (#35094410) Homepage
    He'd hold two sticks up to the sun, determine his location and time to destination ... then eat a few grubs and squeeze a shot of water from some animal dung.
    • Or spend the night in a hotel while awesome editing makes everything look extreme!
    • by Luminary Crush (109477) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:01PM (#35094680)

      ... and then he'd pack it in for the day, take the camera crew out for a nice dinner at the nearest steakhouse, check into his hotel and be all fresh for the next day's shoot.

      Bear is at best entertainment (think 'fear factor' outdoors), at worst a fraud. A real "survivorman" is Les Stroud, who packs in all his own gear and films everything himself, alone... and actually stays out in the wilderness for the duration.

      • by sanosuke001 (640243) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:12PM (#35094860)
        I always felt Bear Grylls was a hack; Les Stroud I enjoy watching because he actually walks you through what he is doing to survive. If Bear gets screwed somehow, he's got people to back him up. Bear goes for the crazy shit to sell TV. Les doesn't have that luxury; he can't even contact help. If he doesn't show up in the seven days, they go look for him. Les Stroud is much more believable. That feces water thing is bullshit... Bear is completely stupid.
        • by afidel (530433) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @05:16PM (#35095826)
          No, Les had a sat phone, he was capable of calling for help and did at least twice. But in general you are right, whatever Bear does do the exact opposite whereas Les may actually give you some decent pointers.
        • by Graff (532189) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @05:24PM (#35095982)

          Les doesn't have that luxury; he can't even contact help. If he doesn't show up in the seven days, they go look for him.

          Les isn't that crazy, he's stated several times that he does take a locater device with him but it's only used in an extreme emergency. However the rest of it is true. He doesn't have anyone with him and he does everything on his own - including the multi-angle and long-distance shots.

          There have been quite a few "shock factor" things that Bear Grylls has done that will probably get you killed if you did them out in the wilderness. For example, that whole thing about putting urine up your rectum is a horrible idea. The amount of water you could absorb that way would be negligible and you risk perforating the mucosa of the rectal wall and/or introducing infection.

          Perhaps Bear Grylls really does know something about survival techniques but he throws in so many crazy ideas that it's tough to separate what's sensible from what's radical. Les Stroud walks you through the concepts and presents you with solid ideas for survival that have the best chance for getting you out alive, even if they aren't flashy.

      • by radl33t (900691)
        Les Stroud is a whiny bitch who doesn't really know anything. As with Bear, Les is, at best, entertainment. Watch his documentary on off grid living if you want to see true foolishness. Maybe it makes you feel nice that such a clumsy idiot can get along in the wilderness. I don't know. However, there is no legitimate comparison between the survivalist skill sets of Bear Grylls and Les Stroud. Bear Gyrlls will eat Les Strouds arm to survive. Les Stroud will weep while his one remaining arm strums a somber c
  • by scribblej (195445) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:55PM (#35094554)

    No really. Talk about depressing. It's about a six-year old kid and his mom, the kid dies. That's sad enough, but they have to give you some horrible details and imagery that's incredibly depressing.

    I'm gunna go run a hot bath and slit my wrists now. Or maybe make some toast.

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @03:55PM (#35094556) Homepage Journal
    Reminds me of a background element in the "Girl Genius" comic.

    A candy dispenser ball, filled with candies in big glass sphere, and a pretty poster over it, written in big friendly colorful letters:

    .....POISON......
    Illiteracy reduction program
  • Part of the problem with GPS units is that they charge almost as much for map updates as they do for the GPS unit itself. In my case my TomTom cost $99 and the map updates are $84.

    The other problem is even the map updates are frequently best guesses.

    And rental companies are notorious for issuing un-updated GPS units. Back a couple of years ago, I flew into Norfolk, VA and rented a car. The GPS unit wasn't aware that they'd moved U.S. 17 so much of the time it showed the car as driving over water. I ju
    • Do a little research on the net and you can find updates for many GPS units available for free at sites like http://gpsunderground.com/ [gpsunderground.com]

    • by radtea (464814) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:41PM (#35095310)

      The other problem is even the map updates are frequently best guesses.

      It would seem that another problem is that these units have a city-dweller's notion of what consitutes a "road" and a "car". Outside of cities the concept of "road" is a lot vaguer, and vehicle type is a lot more relevant. I've been down "roads" in a Willies Jeep that you wouldn't want to take in anything else, and used "roads" that are only seasonably passable. Some "roads" are only drivable in late summer and mid-winter (too muddy at other times); some are impassable in winter due to snow or spring due to flooding; some are passable only in winter due to to freezing (and only then if they've been plowed); and so on.

      There is no reason why most of this knowledge could not be respresented in a GPS navigation unit, but the people who write software for them apparently don't ever actually use them go out of the city.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Kim [wikipedia.org]

    this story haunts me. because i could have done this. any of us could

    and for those of you assholes talking about the darwin awards or death by stupidity: i think arrogant hubris is a pretty good candidate gene for being weeded from the homo sapiens gene pool. when stories like these arise, there's two types of people: those who feel saddened at a pointless death, aka, human beings, and those who think that the occasion is an opportunity to trumpet how smart they are, aka, assholes with an ego problem and lacking empathy

    you're so fucking smart and immune to tragedy, huh? until a tragedy happens to you or yours. try showing some basic simple respect for the dead, asswipes

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:29PM (#35095128) Homepage

      I'm sure anybody can make a bad decision at any time, but it doesn't mean the mistake isn't stupid. Death by stupidity is a normal part of life. It's not an issue of being inherently smarter. It's an issue of "somebody's going to do it". Ideally, the survivors learn from the mistakes of others and don't repeat history.

      Instead of returning to the exit, they consulted a highway map and picked a secondary route that skirted the Wild Rogue Wilderness, a remote area of southwestern Oregon.

      From James Kim, I learn that I shouldn't choose alternate routes that take me near wilderness unless I'm prepared to spend time in the wilderness.

    • by jklovanc (1603149) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:57PM (#35095540)

      Actually Mr. Kim's death had nothing to do with GPS. According to Mrs. Kim, they planned their route using a paper map and didn't see the note stating "Not all Roads Advisable, Check Weather Conditions." They also passed three prominent warning signs that state: "Bear Camp Rd. May Be Blocked By Snowdrifts."

  • The same problem was there with people using old or inaccurate maps in the past, but there is a definite tendency for people to believe that GPS systems are somehow more accurate and up to date. It's irrational, but it's a real phenomenon.

    Actual people will do irrational things. Pretending that people are fundamentally rational beings is irrational in itself. We have to design devices to assume irrational behavior and to take advantage of natural tendencies.

    I suggest a GPS that "sounds" stupid. Something th

  • by MDMurphy (208495) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:03PM (#35094730)

    I tried reading the article, the screwed up page with all it's toolbars, ads and such kept refreshing after a few seconds and jumping to the top of the page. I was interested enough to go to the printer-friendly link an be able to finish the article.

    It's unfortunate that the article and summary talk about "inaccurate GPS" while giving examples of inaccurate or for the most part imprecise databases. It sounded like someone getting lost and blaming the compass when it was the tourist map from the gift shop that was at fault.

    Just checked to make sure, the 8 year old Garmin in my car has the option "avoid unpaved roads" as I don't have a 4x4 I have that option checked. If I wanted to go 4-wheeling I guess I could let it route me on those.

    Idiots who drive for miles in the desert on a gravel road when they are ill-prepared for it are no different than the ones who drive off the pier when their Nav unit was trying to lead them to the ferry. There's always going to be idiots, now they're just ganging up to blame their gadget for their problems.

  • This is highly misleading. What IS a "GPS"? It's NOT the whole unit, it's JUST the receiver, yet people - even people who should know better - persist in mis-labeling the entire device as a "GPS". What got the people described in this article in life-threatening trouble was NOT the GPS, it was the software and maps, which were of a type completely unsuited to an undeveloped wilderness area.

    Had the ignorant people described in the article had a GPS receiver with the right device, software, and maps, for instance TOPO USA or the outdated Outdoor Navigator, then they likely would have survived and found their destinations in good (or better) health.

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:07PM (#35094784) Homepage

    i tried to navigate with my iPad the other day. i entered an address very quickly and easily using the virtual keyboard. it pulled up a beautiful map on the big responsive touchscreen, computed my route faster than a garmin could and told me to start off by turning right at the end of my driveway. perfect, off i went! i knew it was not going to work, but i wanted to see the failure mode anyway. once i got going it kept saying something along the lines of insufficient GPS signal. i though that was funny because it's a wifi-only model that doesn't even have a GPS chip in it.

  • by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:08PM (#35094794)
    I'm doing a skipper course where navigation and calculating water levels are the most stressed topics. I quickly realised that going to sea without training will get you killed pretty soon and very certainly. Same holds for deserts and wilderness in general. Hell, there are cities where you get killed if you wind up in the wrong 'hood.

    The thing is that so many times all will be well with a car, a desert and a some navigation gadget. Taking care of the exceptions is the hard part. Very much like coding.
  • by IonOtter (629215) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:14PM (#35094894) Homepage

    Encounter #1: Driving on I-95, going to from New York to Washington DC. Somewhere around the NJ/PA border, the GPS tells me to take the exit off 95. I look at the instructions, and it's telling me to get off the highway, go down a side-street, turn around, then get BACK ON 95 and continue. WTF?! I ignore it and drive past. It goes through it's "recalculating" thing, then tries to tell me to do it again. This continued for about 50 miles until I got far enough away from the alien machine intelligence rays that were telling it to try and kill me by routing me through the worst neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Baltimore.

    Encounter #2: Interstate travel again. I follow it, and it takes me onto a "major highway" that goes through towns, villages and more stoplights than I have ever seen in my entire life. ALL of them red. I check through the settings, and apparently this route is the "shortest distance". I change that to "fastest" and recalculate. Oh, look! I've got to backtrack 4 miles to the turnpike.

    Encounter #3: I wanna avoid Baltimore like the plague, so I route north along the loop to 70, then up to 81. I then take 81 to Binghamton. Straight shot, clear as a bell and lickety-split! The damn GPS keeps trying to route me onto 15 off Frederick, which is a 55 road of money-starved towns with lots of cops. I ignore it and carry on to Hagerstown to pick up 81, but it KEEPS TRYING TO BRING ME BACK TO 15!! I finally gave up and turned it off, since I knew where I was going, I was just using it for mileage tracking and timing. I later learned about "block zones", where you can eliminate areas you don't want the auto-route feature to go.

    It is my opinion that the GPS manufacturers are:

    1. In league with the petro companies, to get you to use up as much fuel as possible.

    2. In league with big pharma, because by the time you get where you're going, you're going to need medication.

    3. In league with the alien machine intelligence, which is thinning the herd of useless bipeds who are too stupid or too stressed out to survive the coming invasion and subsequent processing into energy pods.

    • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:39PM (#35097412)

      It is my opinion that the GPS manufacturers are:

      4) Expecting you to read the manuals thoroughly before relying on a complex computer system.

      Hell, you pretty much spell it out twice, as you explain that you later "discovered" two rather important features of your navigation system. But hey - I'm sure they aren't covered in the manual at all, and are hidden features that you're supposed to pay extra for.

  • by bornyesterday (888994) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:18PM (#35094964) Homepage
    You awaken in a poorly lit room, with a closed door on each wall. By your side is a GPS device. You turn it on and ask for directions to go home. It tells you to head east and indicates the proper direction with an arrow. You turn in the direction of the arrow, which adjusts to match your new heading. You open it and enter another room. The door shuts behind you. It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue. The GPS continues to point you forward. What do you do?
  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:23PM (#35095030)
    If you are stupid enough put your life in the hands of a single fallible device, you're going to have other problems surviving in the wilderness. Even on a light day walk in a well maintained trail you are one fall or a weather change away form a survival situation, it doesn't take much imagination to work that out, nor prior experience.

    I would suggest the real problem here is that GPS is powerfully enabling to inexperienced people who otherwise would not have undertaken the journey without such directional assitance - perhaps even not been able to find the start of the trail in the first place. The feeling of confidence when you can navigate is dangerous, except it's not in your own orienteering ability, it's in a handheld device that's one drop away from failure.

    There is no substitute to having a freakin clue what do what when the batteries run out.
  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:23PM (#35095040) Homepage

    The article is a little unfair; to be fair it would have to subtract people saved by GPS.

    Frankly, people have always gotten lost, dating right back to at least the time Moses wandered for 40 years in the Sinai. Surely GPS has also gotten people out of trouble. The question is, what's the net effect?

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @04:58PM (#35095558) Journal

    As others have alluded, it's not the GPS, it's the maps. Any map can be wrong. A printed map can be wrong just as easily as an electronic map in a GPS unit can be wrong. Part of the problem might be that the view of your route is generally much narrower in the GPS, and it's more difficult to see that the route you're taking leads to a whole bunch of nothing in the middle of nowhere. If I'm going into an unknown area, I often zoom out the map just to make sure the road eventually connects somewhere. And even that isn't a perfect indication.

    Also, just like paper maps, electronic maps get OLD. If you have a unit that gets maps off a DVD or internal storage, the information can get stale. If it doesn't update over the air, find out how to keep it current.

    Now, GPS making nonoptimal decisions, like leading you off the freeway and right back on again (shortest route) or directing you to a 35mph "highway" that goes through a bunch of small towns instead of using the freeway, that's the GPS unit not the maps. Some of these problems can be fixed by changing the setup defaults, which most non-geeks aren't inclined to do. But this isn't really a map issue.

    After a couple early incidents (gps trying to make me turn left on a one-way going right, or heading me up a road that clearly had been closed for years) I began using the GPS directions as advisory only. What I tell new GPS users is not to panic if you miss a turn or not sure it's giving you the right directions. All GPS units will recalculate if you miss a turn. Sometimes this means "I just didn't want to turn there". GPS is advisory only , just as if your spousal unit was in the passenger seat with a map and a compass.

  • by eepok (545733) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @05:28PM (#35096040) Homepage

    Don't blame GPS. It's a system utilized by a device to show you where things likely are. If people die in blindly following GPS, that's on the user. That's a single point of failure in their survival plan that made for themselves.

    Tip: If you're going out into the wild with a GPS device, also bring along a compass, a map of the area (topographical), and let people know when you're leaving and when you'll be back. Also tell them if you're not back by X date, call the authorities.

      Hope for the best, but plan for the worst, people.

  • Technically (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @05:34PM (#35096178)

    It's not GPS, is the routing software messing up usually due to lack of data (or out of date) as opposed to logical fault. I am pretty sure the satellites had very little to do with it other than say "Your Here!" over and over again.

    Of course I remember when GPS was a "big deal" and specialized, I remember taking a course in it, and having to provide training to others. When units cost thousands of dollars. Of course I am in GIS and understand all the background. Heck there was a time when the US Army would mess with your accuracy just for fun, and you had to try to correct for it!

    Now any smuck can go to bestbuy and pick up something for 150$ and it tells you where to go.

    You're supposed to use a tool, not let the tool use you.

  • by Walt Dismal (534799) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @08:18PM (#35098678)
    Hungry bears are buying GPS jammers and quietly laughing.
  • by Nyder (754090) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @09:32PM (#35099364) Journal

    Now that's a reality show I could enjoy.

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