When my wife and I head north to Portland, we generally make the 12 mile jaunt over to the Interstate then cruise the remainder of the trip North at freeway speeds. But this is not the most direct route to Portland: Highway 99 is the old highway.
From our house, our friends had programmed their GPS to home and simply followed the device’s directions. Calculating the most “direct” route, it took them off the old highway, routing them along rural county roads until they reached the banks of the Willamette River. However, there was no bridge across the Willamette at this point on the route!
The GPS program didn’t know that the point where that little yellow line transverses the Willamette is actually the Buena Vista ferry; a small car ferry that stops operating at 7:00 PM. Our friends had to back-track on windy rural country roads to make their way to secondary roads which would eventually lead them home.
This isn’t the first time people have been led astray by errant GPS systems. In 2009 an Oregon couple on their way to Reno was directed up a remote Forest Service road by their GPS; it looked like the shortest route. They spent three days stranded in the snow before being rescued. These are not isolated incidents; there are countless stories of drivers being led astray by blindly depending on their onboard navigation systems. They may calculate the most “direct” route, but that may not necessarily be the quickest or most efficient route.
If I use Google Maps, for example, to direct me to the beach about an hour west of our location, the directions have me taking a circuitous route of twisty rural back roads before connecting into main route to the coast. But I know that if I drive three miles out of my way to the main highway, I can make it to my destination more quickly and comfortably.
I prefer to depend on maps. But even maps can lead one astray. I’ve seen bright yellow printed lines on a map that, in reality, don’t go where they indicate they do. Still maps give an overall perspective of starting point and destination. This allows you to strategize your trip rather than rely on simple “turn here” directions. Frankly, I like to see the the big picture, and I like to know roughly where I am at any point during a trip.
I appreciate that some people like not having to have to pull over and consult a map; and perhaps having that reassuring voice confidently directing them on their journey is comforting. But I probably won’t get a GPS anytime soon. Besides, I'm sure it would just keep asking: “Are we there yet?”
I love this Allstate Insurance ad: