Starry Rhoads and her husband had a horrifying experience when their navigation system led them astray (Starry Rhoads).

    by: Craig Howie | AOL Autos

    When Starry Rhoads and her husband John followed their navigation system’s directions to take a road through Oregon’s picture-perfect winter wilderness, they never once thought that their lives would be in danger. Marked as a through road by the aftermarket GPS device in their Toyota 4x4, it would eventually peter out to become little more than a rutted country pathway. But by this time, one of Oregon’s famous snap snowstorms had blocked the road behind them.

    “We got stuck for three days,” said Starry Rhoads, describing the harrowing incident that occurred late last year.


Rhoads said the couple, from Reno, Nev., had checked their route on maps beforehand and knew which way they wanted to go, but “the device had a mind of its own. There was no indication this should not have been a road we were on, there were cars on it, and signs, but after 20 miles there was no road.


“At the time we turned onto the road it was sunny and clear and a beautiful day. But then it snowed a little. Next night it snowed a lot. The next night we didn’t know an even bigger snow was coming, and if rescuers hasn’t reached us that night, they told us we wouldn’t have been picked up till spring."

    Only As Good As The Map

    Most new cars these days have at least the option of a factory-installed navigation system and aftermarket units hanging from windshields have become a common sight. Many drivers consider navigation systems essential to their daily lives. Garmin, the market leader for aftermarket units, forecasts sales of more than $3 billion for 2010.

    Yet the Rhoad’s experience will not be surprising to thousands of motorists who have been led astray by their navigation systems -- though usually it’s more of a mild annoyance than a life-threatening mistake.

Environmental factors often play a large part when these devices act up: Tall buildings, for example, can interfere with the signal relayed to the device from a satellite overhead, and result in jumbled coordinates and confusing directions. Like in the Rhoads case, weather can play havoc on rural roads than are prone to flooding or being blocked by snow during a heavy storm. If you live or commute through a growing community, new streets and neighborhoods that are rapidly evolving can also throw your GPS system for a loop.

    “[With] obstacles in a large city, big buildings or long overpasses, those signals can bounce around -- for example it’s been showing a straight line and suddenly it tells you to take a quick turn,” said Jake Jacobson, a spokesman for Garmin.

    He said the company issues new maps for its devices every three months, seeking to minimize the effect of new construction on its route maps. Users can sign up for new maps every quarter or for a lifetime of map updates at a reduced price.

“A lot of it is common sense.  It always helps to have looked at your route before you go and have a sense of your journey. I’ve heard of people who follow it [GPS instructions] blindly despite posted signs and the rules of the road. You don’t want to drive through a police barricade,” said Jacobson.

    Google Maps and AOL’s newly re-launched Mapquest service provide online route-planning services that can be printed out and examined before any trip. Garmin also offers its own free route-planning software called BaseCamp.

    For some, however, nothing beats a paper map like you’d find at a bookstore or filling station. Rhoads pointed out that her GPS device only viewed short distances at a time, rather than, say, a full 1,200-mile overview of their trip, like you might plot with a traditional road atlas.

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    Rhoads says that people should tell their friends or family when to expect them to arrive or come back from their trip, so if they are missed it can speed any alert of emergency services. She says thankfully they were prepared for their long drive with warm clothes, blankets, and food and water. “Without them we wouldn’t have survived the snow-drift.”

    Drivers in rural areas should routinely pack chains, shovels and blankets and extra food, water, high-energy food, extra clothing, and cell phones – though keep in mind that the more remote the location, the less likely you are to get a signal. Always let somebody know your itinerary.


Even for general motoring, the emergency safety kit in your car should contain jumper cables, engine oil, de-icer fluid, a flashlight, emergency flares, a distress flag, a first aid kit, a pocket knife, water and snacks, blankets , gloves, scarf, hat, cell phone, ice scraper, shovel, tow chain or rope and a jack.

    Use Your Head

Even after her experience, Rhoads says their navigation system has “served them well” in numerous trips in rural and metropolitan areas.

    The Rhoads caught a lucky break when on their last night in the snow they picked up a weak cell phone network signal, allowing them to send their co-ordinates to the local police force, who forwarded it to rescue dispatchers.

    “We should have listened to ourselves rather than the GPS. It seemed like a shortcut but it wasn’t. Like anything else you have to rely on your own intelligence, you can’t put blind faith in your GPS system. In the future I’ll rely more on written maps or I’ll stop and ask,” she said.

    “Human judgment is still the best tool,” confirmed Garmin’s Jacobson. “Our devices are a great source to help get from point A to point B whether cross country or daily commute, but we don’t want to give the impression we want to turn their brains off when they turn their Garmins on.”

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    1 - 20 of 246 Comments
    xodusfire Oct 03, 2010 11:26 PM
    Why are the words b-u-t , i-t, and l-o-s-t censored??
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    xodusfire Oct 03, 2010 11:25 PM
    Here's a perfect example of why you should get a GPS device that is up-datable, and UPDATE it. Roads change, some are removed, some are added on, some are closed down. That's just a common fact. Don't be cheap, and don't go with a factory-installed GPS unless they work with a satellite (and aren't pre-programmed), or come with a monthly fee (Like On-Star) for updates or service (Like AT&T cell phones, though those are less reliable as you MUST be in a service area for it to work). I have a TOM TOM, I regularly use the free updates for major roadways. If I were more into back roads and off roading, I would pay the monthly fee to get a full North America map update any time changes are made. Trust in your GPS.... ************ is always good to have a trusty up-to-date paper map on hand! I guess it sounds callous, but if you got ********* your own fault. Why wouldn't you think to be prepared with a paper map? You can still buy them in wide availability at a gas station.
    Report This
    zoso975 Sep 30, 2010 4:01 PM
    what's with all the question marks throughout the document in wrong places?
    Report This
    kheck64 Sep 30, 2010 1:13 PM
    They have roads in Oregon??????????
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    rjbergert Sep 22, 2010 9:06 AM
    Most of the time, especially local, I love my TomTom. However on our trip to New Orleans it took us through the worst part of New Orleans even though we had an address of the Motel in the Quarter. But, again, it found us the tiny little cemetary why out in the boondocks in Oklahoma. Love it. rjbergert
    Report This
    yrly59e Sep 21, 2010 9:15 PM
    Cell phones might not work but a CB radio with good antenna will carry a good distance.
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    townpug Sep 21, 2010 9:13 PM
    When avoiding Southern GA 60 miles of construction, my Delorme took me and my 40 foot motorhome (thank God no trailer this time) down a nice country road that got narrow, soft and eventually under water as a class 6 road. I backed up over 1/2 mile. They have improved a lot since then!
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    wallyjo45 Sep 21, 2010 9:06 PM
    What was lacking here was a good dose of COMMON SENSE.
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    sored0604 Sep 21, 2010 8:51 PM
    What ever form of reference you are using you must also use common sense. If you are driving in the middle of winter in a rural area should you try to take a "shortcut" ? Probably not. Whether you are using a map, mapquest or GPS nothing is perfect and it won't take into consideration the time of year, the weather or any other variable. Just stay on the main highways or interstates.....sometimes the shortest route is not the best even in the most perfect weather.
    Report This
    debilv3 Sep 21, 2010 8:30 PM
    Any trip begins with something simple called...common sense. There is a reason Rand McNally sells road maps...there is a reason for mapquest to be on computers......figure out where you want to go, look at a map, check things out, and then begin your trip. Research.....brains.....those two things are so important in anything one does in life. Too bad most do not use one or the other. I would be too embarrassed to tell anyone that I got lost following a stupid GPS device.
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    cmp1996 Sep 21, 2010 8:30 PM
    No, the GPS didn't leave them stranded. They blindly followed the directions and got themselves stranded. I use a GPS often, however I always take a look at a map or on the Internet to have some idea of where I am going. GPS is NOT infallible -- garbage in garbage out.
    Report This
    seeslime Sep 21, 2010 8:29 PM
    Mapquest has also given faulty directions.
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    goodi420 Sep 21, 2010 8:21 PM
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    djrkitty Sep 21, 2010 8:17 PM
    I usually route my trip with google or mapquest, then use the GPS, and still keep an atlas in the car. What makes me really laugh is that the government has paid out so much money to have roads mapped out for the census...maybe they should be selling the information to the GPS providers. LOL
    Report This
    janshere6 Sep 21, 2010 8:17 PM
    This is a pathetic excuse for people wanting to sue a company. Take their drivers licenses away from them then they can watch the weather station and be informed about serious weather. Then we can all not waise our time reading a rediculous story about stupid people who want to make money off a company. Hey, go to Mc Donalds and order a coffee, don't burn yourself!
    Report This
    soccerdadscare Sep 21, 2010 8:15 PM
    Lets hope TOYOTA doesn't start building these GPS systems. If they do, they will BLAME every one but THEMSELVES... MAYBE THIS EXPLAINS ALL THOSE SUDDEN ACEL ISSUES. AND THE DEATHS AND THE DELAY IN GETTING THOSE RECALLS....
    Report This
    lenos Sep 21, 2010 8:11 PM
    Where the Fa-kow-we?
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    allibyx Sep 21, 2010 8:09 PM
    "Braniacs. They knew their route on a MAP, but instead became brainless sheeple and let an electronic device do their thinking for them. No wonder this country is a mess." Amen to that. Today it's "The GPS made me do it!", i'm afraid what it will be tomorrow.
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    jmszkutnik Sep 21, 2010 8:06 PM
    I travel out west in some very remote areas of Arizona and Colorado for business. A GPS is an invaluable tool, but you must have other tools with you. A GPS can identify unmarked roads at night, or those where someone had clobbered the sign and it's laying in the ditch. I have had the same thing happen as Mr & Mrs Rhodes when the GPS had me traveling down a sandy, unpaved road. In a dually and pulling 12,000 lbs, i was in 4wd for 19 miles.. but i made it where i was going. I wouldn't have tried it if the weather wasn't so nice. A map program on my laptop clearly showed the road as a fire road, but the GPS wanted me to go for it. I guess it saved me some time from going the 50 miles farther around a big mesa - and on a nice paved road - but it pays to investigate. You can get stranded and DIE in many places out there if completely unprepared, so when the weather is bad, or especially if you're not in a vehicle that will allow you a little adventure.. DO YOUR **************** in mind what you'll do if the Nav system just fails, breaks, etc.. You need a map, too. Better still, is having all 3; a GPS, a map, and an internet connection or a map program on your laptop!!
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    rheactor Sep 21, 2010 8:04 PM
    I bought a Garmin a few years ago, when I used it to go home that day, it had me make a wrong turn on MY OWN street (I should have known then)... it's told me to make a right hand turn on to an area where there was NO ROAD! It often takes me way out of my way... I--95 is right there and it will take me a mile backwards to get on the same highway!...I map quest first, and use my own devices such as my god given 'sense of direction' before I will trust that GPS ... I lost all faith in it, it makes me feel uncertain...because, I never know if it's leading me the right way, or not.
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    When Starry Rhoads and her husband followed their navigation system’s directions, they never once thought that their lives would be in danger.


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