Trust issues with your GPS? You're not alone in the woods

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A Reno, Nevada couple got stranded in wintry conditions for three days in the high desert of Eastern Oregon when their SUV's GPS gave them misguided directions and took them down a wrong path. Ask me and I'll tell you that the only wrong path they took was trusting their GPS.

The Klamath County Sheriff, Tim Evinger, clearly a kinder soul than I, was quoted saying "GPS almost did 'em in and GPS saved 'em." Evinger said. "It will give you options to pick the shortest route. You certainly get the shortest route. But it may not be a safe route." After almost three days, they miraculously recovered a weak cellphone signal on a GPS-enabled phone which sent its coordinates to 911.

Actually what saved them was the fact that the couple, both in their mid-to-late 60s, were prepared for winter travel, carrying food, water and warm clothes. Their four-wheel drive Toyota Sequoia was pulled out of the snow with a winch after they were found by a Lake County deputy in the Winema-Fremont National Forest, outside the town of Silver Lake.

John Rhoads, 65, and his wife, Starry Bush-Rhoads, 67, made it home safely to Reno, Nev., Evinger said. "Their statement was, being prepared saved their life," he said.

GPS systems have long rewarded their users' blind faith by leading them into harm's way. A rash of incidents have occurred in the past year -- not counting the one on "The Office" -- including a British woman who drove her Mercedes into a river, a Swiss trucker drove down a pedestrian walkway, a New Yorker's car hit by a train after cruising onto the tracks, and two truckers who found themselves wedged in tight spots in two separate locations.

And don't count on "My GPS made me do it" to stand up in court.

TechDirt.com, reports that following your GPS over a cliff was proved to be an unacceptable defense in court. In this case, the accused followed the GPS's commands down a "narrow cliffside path" until the car got stuck against a fence, overlooking a sharp drop. He was convicted of "driving without due care and attention."

The prosecutor convinced the judge:"The path was not designed for motor vehicles yet Mr. Jones slavishly continued to follow the satnav system to the point where his eyes and his brain must have been telling him otherwise to such a degree he was not exercising proper control of the vehicle. For his part, the guy admitted he was an "idiot," but said he was just following instructions: "I might have been an idiot for taking the wrong road or carrying on but I have not driven without due care or attention."

But while GPS failure has long been documented, it so far hasn't been successfully sued over giving folks a bum steer. Where is Ralph Nadar when we need him, besides still riding a bicycle? Surely if someone can successfully sue over McDonald's coffee being too hot, getting lost because your GPS misdirected you is just waiting in the litigation wings.

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