GPS Malfunctions: The Long, Winding Road to Nowhere


Some estimates suggest that more than 50 percent of motorists don’t know how to read a map as the convenience of GPS systems has virtually-eliminated the need to plot a course the old-fashioned way.  While there has been a vast-improvement in the accuracy and reliability of GPS services in the past couple of years, and good devices allow us to store maps and routes offline, they still go haywire from time to time.  Consequently, it’s important to have backup plans available in the event that you get turned around as you try to get to your destination.


While malfunctions related to the GPS voice sending people in meandering circles to nowhere have become ripe fodder for comedians, a number of other problems crop up from time to time that aren’t funny.  Let’s take a look at a few ways that GPS gets things wrong, and hopefully that will encourage you to know your route before heading out.



One of the biggest advances in GPS services is that they can alert us to congestion along our route and propose detours that will keep us moving along without much delay.  However, many of these detours are on roads that are not lined with technology that reports traffic flow.  Consequently, people can end up encountering more congestion and backups than if they stayed put.  Additionally, these alternates are usually less-familiar to us than the main routes as well.  This can cause distractions, frustrations and uncertainty as we try to get past whatever bottleneck we’re trying to avoid.


GPS systems also don’t give us information regarding safety in these areas as well.  We could easily be re-routed through areas that we’d normally avoid at all costs.  Consequently, we can be opening the door to all kinds of problems by following GPS detours that are not familiar to us.



Good GPS services do a decent job of alerting us to construction sites, but they are not always up-to-date, and they generally only include major projects that have been announced and scheduled in advance.  Things like last-minute changes or unexpected road repairs may not show up on our devices.  Additionally, the detour routing provided by the GPS device may not be the best as well.  We could end up driving right into massive backups despite the fact that we see nothing but green along the road ahead on our displays.


Points of Interest

Another common problem with GPS is that they don’t always represent the right location for a variety of points of interest.  Addresses change, businesses move, and road conditions are in a continual state of flux.  We can easily be sent to the wrong location or to the right one but using an impossible route.  Believe it or not, getting misdirected, lost and confused are leading causes of accidents and roadway emergencies.


In addition to these little quirks, GPS devices can break or lose power at the worst possible time as well.  Consequently, while there’s nothing wrong with using them, it’s important to remember that they are intended to be a navigational aid, but not as a replacement to our responsibility to maintain good situational awareness and know where we’re going.  Stay abreast of the latest news and information about road conditions and closures.  Know how to read a map and carry one with you.  Plan your route, and be aware of suitable alternates instead of solely-relying on your GPS.


These simple steps can go a long way with helping you to avoid encountering all kinds of problems on the road, some of which could lead to serious emergencies, and they can increase the chances of us getting to our destinations safely.  So, before you head out, make sure that your GPS is fully-charged and updated, but make sure that you also have a map (and know how to read it) along with a plan B in mind as well.



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