Why aren't GPS navigation systems more reliable?

Once again, a GPS device sends hapless travelers down the wrong path and ironically, GPS saves them in the end.

We've been down this road before: A trusting soul gets bum directions from a GPS navigation system, winds up in the middle of nowhere, and may or may not survive the ordeal.

The latest incident took place a few days ago in the Eastern Oregon desert, when a Nevada couple let their Toyota Sequoia's not-so-trusty GPS system find the shortest route to their destination. According to the USA Today, John Rhoads and his wife, Starry Bush-Rhoads, got stuck in snow for three days when their GPS unit led them down an isolated forest road.

Ironically, the couple's GPS-equipped cell phone saved them on Sunday by relaying its coordinates to a dispatcher. "GPS almost did 'em in and GPS saved 'em," Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger told the USA Today. "It will give you options to pick the shortest route. You certainly get the shortest route. But it may not be a safe route."

Luckily, GPS systems have never placed me in a life-or-death situation. They have, however, provided me with miserable and misleading directions from time to time. So what's a driver to do? The best advice, of course, is to carry a backup (yes, a printed) map, but that's not always practical, particularly if you're on a long road trip with multiple destinations.

When shopping for a GPS device, look for one that provides frequent map updates. While that may save you from taking the wrong Interstate exit, or driving the wrong way down a one-way road, it might not prevent the kind of wilderness snafus that befell the Rhoads in Oregon.

Common sense is always your best guide. If your GPS is guiding you down a lonely road in the mountains, it may be time to revise your route.

We asked leading GPS device vendors Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom to comment for this article, but they didn't respond by post time.

For more tips, read PC World's "How to Buy a GPS Device."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags GPS technologyGPS

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?