The Danger of Trusting Your GPS

dangerous road

If you use GPS regularly while driving, perhaps you’ve had fleeting “what if” thoughts—what if there’s a glitch and you’re sent miles and miles away from your destination, or what if your GPS sends you into an unfamiliar area where you feel unsafe. But if you think your fears are irrational, or just a sitcom punch line, we’d like to remind you that placing too much control in technology can lead to real trouble. This year alone, there have been several instances of serious crashes and deaths as a result of drivers following their GPS navigation. Our aim isn’t to fear-monger, but these stories are a good reminder not to become complacent behind the wheel. Below, stories of GPS gone wrong and our suggestions for preventing disaster.

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March 28, 2015, East Chicago: Onramp to a demolished bridge

A woman was killed and her husband was injured when GPS directions routed them over the partially demolished Cline Avenue Bridge in Chicago, which has been closed since 2009.

The Times of Northwest Indiana reports that barriers block the road, as well as large orange cones, barrels and other barricades, including large “Road Closed” signs. But none of it kept this couple safe. The details of the story are heartbreaking: the couple appeared to be on the way to visit family, and had food in the back seat. While the driver was able to escape the car after it fell nearly 38 feet, his wife did not make it out before the car burst into flames. The driver’s mistake, according to experts: paying too much attention to the GPS and not enough attention to his surroundings.

You should always keep your vehicle's built-in navigation system & your phone's GPS updated.

June 28, 2015, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio: Wrong turn onto active train tracks

In June, an Ohio man following a GPS navigation misunderstood the instructions and instead of entering an onramp, he drove directly onto active train tracks, where his car got stuck. The driver exited the car, and soon after, a southbound train collided with it. Luckily no one else was in the car, and no one was injured in the crash. The Akron Beacon Journal reports that the driver was however cited by police for failure to control his vehicle.

October 5, 2015, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Fatal shooting

Earlier this month, an elderly woman and her husband were driving in Brazil when they followed their GPS navigation into an area known for violence, instead of driving along the beach, as they had intended. Their car was shot at more than 20 times (the motive is unknown), and the woman later died from a heart attack. The incident led to a shootout between police and gang members.

The NY Daily News cited a spokesperson for the navigation app the couple had been using: “Unfortunately it’s hard to prevent drivers from navigating to a dangerous neighborhood if it’s the destination they select. Citizens who reside in these areas need to be able to get home.”

GPS maps navigation

How to Protect Yourself

GPS navigation—whether it’s a built-in system in your car, or on your phone, or a separate device—is incredibly helpful, and voice-over instruction can lead to a less distracted ride. As far as modern conveniences go, GPS does a lot to improve our quality of life (and ease of travel).

But with the tragic and frightening real-world examples of how drivers can go wrong using GPS, it’s important to remember ways to stay safe.

First, though it might seem obvious, always remain engaged with your surroundings. You, the driver, are the expert, not a machine. If something doesn’t seem right, trust your instinct. You can always pull over and double check a direction, or even pop into a gas station for assistance like we used to do in the old days.

When visiting somewhere new, take a moment to map the directions before getting in the car.

We recommend mapping your route before you begin driving. Look closely at both the map and directions. You might be able to catch a route that takes you through an area you’d rather avoid, and with a general idea of your route, you’ll be better prepared for the trip. GPS won’t ever avoid so-called dangerous areas so it’s up to you to be pro-active and only plan to travel through places where you feel comfortable.

Finally, make sure your GPS is updated regularly. If you’re using your phone’s GPS, make sure you practice regular phone maintenance: run system updates in a timely fashion, and if you’re using an app, always make sure you have the latest update installed. If your vehicle has a built-in navigation system, be sure to update it on a regular basis.