You Can't Trust GPS

An 11-year-old boy is dead, and too much dependence on GPS may be partly to blame.

No reader question, this time. I just want to step onto my soapbox for a moment.

Alicia Sanchez and her 11-year-old son Carlos set out for an overnight camping trip in Death Valley. Five days later rescuers found Sanchez badly dehydrated and Carlos dead (click here for details). It's possible she depended too much on her car's GPS.

That's a real danger.

I love GPS. It's great to see your actual location on the map, and spoken directions are a lot safer when you're driving than written ones. But these gadgets don't know everything. They don't know road or traffic conditions, or the advantages and disadvantages of one type of road over another.

Anyone who's depended on GPS enough has received bad advise. They've told me to take a slow and difficult route because it's a mile shorter than a fast and easy one. They've advised me to turn left at a dangerous intersection when a slight detour would let me turn where it's safe. Two different GPS systems insisted that the same major thoroughfare was a one-way street (it isn't).

Nor can they present the combination of details and big picture that you get with a good roadmap. You might not realize how thin, winding, and long that road is if all you can see is the small section visible onscreen.

So use your GPS, but if you're going into unfamiliar territory, get an old-fashioned road map as well. And if that territory is potentially dangerous (they didn't name it Death Valley for nothing), get some advise from rangers or other local professionals.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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