It looks like people are starting to get fed up with geographic information systems (GIS) including information that is no longer up to date. Consumers are so reliant on the information stored in their GPS device that they actually follow the directions into danger sometimes, an event referred to as “death by GPS” by some national park rangers.
“Maps are getting so good at tying point A and point B together that they (people) are blindly following this data down roads that barely exist, that were abandoned years ago,” Rick Hamilton, member of the Civil GPS Service Interface Committee commented.
One example of GPS leading people astray can be found on a narrow road in Vermont. A number of big rig operators have decided to listen to their GPS system and ignore road signs on Route 108—a very narrow, very windy mountain pass that large vehicles cannot make. There have been nearly 50 cases reported of the route being closed in order to get large vehicles out after getting stuck. So many, in fact, that a state fine was implemented.
That is just one example of this problem, though. It’s happening all over. People have gotten stuck on mountain roads, in deserts, on closed bridges, and even in lakes.
A lot of the issue is due to critical information slipping through the cracks—information about a road closure, for instance, just gets overlooked by the program at hand. But, outdated maps are also a key issue to this problem. Customers using GPS devices should make sure they know how to update maps, and do so regularly; Especially when traveling to unfamiliar areas.
Since this problem has continued to escalate in recent years, the U.S. Department of Transportation has actually started a campaign that requires truck guidance systems to differ from regular auto GPS systems to keep big trucks out of the places they don’t belong.
“We need to engage GIS officials at the state, federal, and county levels to find a way to attribute this data that they’re putting in there; data that people are using and just blindly following into danger,” Hamilton said.
With the problem continuing to increase, it may not be enough to try and keep up with GIS data. Hamilton is calling for action, with the goal of including more information in turn-by-turn directional navigation. The goal is to have all navigation include things like what type of road it is, which vehicles can handle it, etc.
Unfortunately, death by GPS is a serious issue associated with GIS technology. GIS data cannot just mindlessly be entered into databases any more, as the people following directions seem to be mindless as well. GIS databases and GPS devices are going to need improvements in order to help end this phenomenon.