GPS: Blind leading the blind?



I just returned from the most fascinating trip.  It was a simple ride up to New Jersey from Virginia for a client meeting.  In the past, I went with someone who had a GPS in their car.  I think in NJ, or I guess any state you aren’t familiar with, a GPS is a great tool to have while driving.  New Jersey is especially interesting because of the numerous “jersey” walls where if you miss your turn on the right side of the road, you need to go about four miles up and find a u-turn, then back eight miles to another u-turn and then this time you won’t miss your turn.  I guess you learn quickly not to miss your destination the first go around.  U-Turns aren’t really U-Turns either in NJ.  U-Turns are more of something called a “jug handle” or various other cute names for turns that don’t resemble a “U”, but yield the same results.  The person I went with this trip did not have a GPS so we managed to borrow one at the last minute from someone else at the office.

The GPS worked well in getting us to a destination and pin-pointing various U (or NOT U) turns.   The “fascinating” part of the journey occurred during the trip up and back.  Normally you would take Route-13 up the eastern shore and then there is a State Route 1 somewhere and eventually you find yourself on the NJ Turnpike.  This trip up, the GPS turned us off of that road.  I was quite surprised but thought that just MAYBE it had found a better way to get there.  Maybe a new and exciting road.  After about 20 minutes, it said “Turn Left” and I looked up and realized it had led me to a ferry.  Oh, it was a nice ferry, I’m sure – but I had no intention of taking a ferry to NJ.  I wasn’t sure of anything anymore at that point.  “Could this thing be trusted?” I wondered.  The ferry toll guy directed us to go back about 15 minutes and we’d be right back on SR-1 heading north.  Perfect. 

We continued on, and this time I used my Google Map that I had also printed out for the trip just in case we weren’t able to borrow the GPS at the last minute.  I’ve been this route before, so I had a general idea of what I was doing.  The Google map was flawless.  The GPS was griping most of the trip suggesting that we get off of the turnpike here and there.  I finally turned it down.  When we eventually made it to the hotel, it said that we had 30 minutes remaining.  I couldn’t figure that out.  I mean, I DID enter the address and even though it said that the hotel wasn’t in the same city where I knew it was located, again – I thought that maybe it was just a little off.  Actually being AT the hotel was helpful because even though the GPS didn’t “know” the address or the right address, it was able to pinpoint “your current location” and save it as a point.  For the rest of the visit, I just told it to get us back to the “HOTEL”, which is how I marked it.

When we left there was a typical snow/ice storm going on which turned into a driving rainstorm.  The GPS was set for our office and I anticipateed no problems – I mean, it’s obvious about going up – it just had the wrong address, right?  We did our best to maneuver the signs on the way back in between the wiper blade swipes and promised ourselves to just stay on the same road.  We did, however, after a time, the road looked “different” – just wrong somehow.  I saw signs which I THOUGHT said TurnPike so we kept going.  At 6pm, the GPS suggested we “Turn Right”.  My brain melted a little – I looked up and saw a sign for the Ferry – THE FERRY – the North side of the ferry we were at the other day during the trip up.  I was stunned.  We pulled into a restaurant to grab a bite to eat and review some maps we had with us.  The Google map wasn’t helpful at this point because we were so far off course it was just insane.  The waitress was able to get us some information on the Ferry – it wasn’t horrible – just a quick one hour trip and we’d be on our way.  The problem?  The ferry doesn’t run after 6pm.  While I was looking at maps and trying to find some alternative to driving the 129 miles BACK to where we missed the exit – or at least, the exit we would have normally taken, I heard a lady on the other side of the restaurant talking to her waitress.  “I don’t know what happened.  I was driving and it just took me here.” 

The same thing had just happened to her.  Astounding!  My immediate thought was that some kind of conspiracy was afoot and the restaurant was in on it.  We ate a quick meal and then using bits a pieces from both our map and the waitresses knowledge of the area, and yes even the GPS at some points, we headed out and eventually arrived home.  We were only about four hours late and let’s face it, it’s fun to drive at 2am.

During the last part of the trip, I started playing with the options on the GPS and sure enough, down in a routing submenu was an option called “Ferry YES/NO” and YES was highlighted.  Nice.  So it’s a little bit of user error and I have to admit, some technical issues since the city we were travelling to wasn’t even in the system.

What did I learn?

  1. Always print out a map to take with you.  If you don’t use it, it didn’t really hurt anything to have it. 
  2. Pay attention to signs.  Just because the GPS says “TURN LEFT” – is that really where you want to go?
  3. Maybe old people aren’t as dumb as I thought.  I heard someone older complaining that their GPS never took them the right way to go somewhere.  I figured they didn’t know what they were doing.  Now I think maybe they did.
  4. Choose your GPS wisely – does it have all the maps for where you go?  Can it download them on the fly?
  5. CHECK YOUR OPTIONS – For all you know the defaults may include not only “Use Ferries”, but it might say “Always choose the route near the state prison” and “Avoid the interstate”
  6. Don’t borrow a GPS – just buy one, but buy wisely.  If it says “Maps by Blind Craig” – well…

One response to “GPS: Blind leading the blind?

  1. Trust me – following a GPS can be a lot of fun sometimes… 🙂

    I once followed one through the mountains of Colorado and had such an adventure that I had to blog about it…

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