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Google Maps shortcut turns into 100-car mud pie in farmer’s field

Trying to save 20 minutes, 100 drivers took a Google Maps shortcut... into a field, where the mud-stuck cars then caused a 2-hour delay.

Uh-oh! Car crash on Peña Boulevard leading up to Denver International Airport. Traffic jam-up’s going to make you late! What to do?!

Listen to the lady from Google Maps who tells you to take a detour and shave 20 minutes off your travel time, that’s what.

Sound too good to be true? Oh, indeed, it was. On Sunday, about 100 cars took the exit that Google Maps told them to take, drove where Google Maps told them to drive, and were led down a dirt road.

Actually, calling it a “road” is a bit of a stretch. As CNN tells it, one of the drivers, Connie Monsees, said that the road was more like a two-lane path that a farmer must have made by driving through his fields.

Well, Google said to go this way, so I’ll go this way, Monsees figured. Plus, everybody else is going this way, so surely it must be OK…?

There were a bunch of other cars going down [the dirt road] too, so I said, ‘I guess it’s OK.’

It was not OK.

The fact that it had rained over the weekend made it all a bit gluey. This did not bode well for the 100 or so cars that were following Google Maps’ instructions.

Monsees was fortunate enough to be driving a four-wheel drive. In fact, a few people who were trying to catch a flight asked her if she was going to the airport. They threw their bags into her car, and, according to UPI, they made their flights.

Others were not so fortunate. Their cars got stuck. In fact, the detour that was supposed to cut 20 minutes off the initial 43-minute arrival time wound up taking about 2 hours.

Google released this statement about the navigational glitch:

We take many factors into account when determining driving routes, including the size of the road and the directness of the route. While we always work to provide the best directions, issues can arise due to unforeseen circumstances such as weather. We encourage all drivers to follow local laws, stay attentive, and use their best judgment while driving.

Good judgment in such cases includes listening not just to the voice of a navigational aid speaking to you from your phone or any other GPS device. It means also listening to the voice of common sense in your own head.

Here’s Monsees:

It’s not always best to rely on technology. And it’s OK to wait.


I’m baffled by some people’s blind faith in technology. This isn’t a new thing. We used to say “toner is god” meaning printing something gave it more credibility. Updated for today’s tech, if it’s on a display it’s more accurate than your own eyes.


On a track leading up to the bank of the River Parrett near Bridgwater (on the Parrett Trail) there is a sign “SatNav Wrong”. Because if you follow it you end up on a river bank path not even wide enough to turn around. You could have to reverse for a mile or so, and an error will put you into a tidal river. Oh, and Somerset is famous for its mud.


I’ve seen similar (and official) signs in the Oxon/Bucks part of the world, saying things like “LGV drivers do not follow Satnav”, with an arrow showing the correct (and only usable) route.


This is nothing new, I live in the Los Angeles area and many times I have been using Google maps and been routed into neighborhoods that were NOT places that I wanted to be in. I didn’t get stuck in the mud but I was afraid for my life.


I always remember my dad prepping for a long motorway drive. He’d sit with a road atlas noting down things like road numbers and motorway junction numbers including the junction before the one he wanted and the junction after the one he wanted just in case there were issues. I don’t know anyone who does anything like that these days.
Tech is good. Tech makes your life easier. But maybe we do rely on it too much.


In some coutries – well, in South Africa at least – freeway exit numbers are simpy the number of kilometres from the start/end of the freeway, so they not only go consistently up or down depending on direction but also provide a handy reminder of how far until the exit you want, or how much you have overshot if you’ve not been paying attention. So if you know you want exit 46 and you just passed exit 36, you know you’re about 5 minutes away, assuming you are travelling at the speed limit of 120km/hr. In the UK the junctions go up/down by 1 every time, so there could be 500 metres or 15 km from J12 to J13, who can say? Yes, you should look at a regular map before you set out. Maps are cool and being able to read one is a form of scientific literacy that is both fun and useful.

(We’ll ignore the absurdity that although the UK is officially an SI country it has stubbornly retained miles and mph, but for big road signs only, so that the Highways England distance markers at the roadside – the ones you would use to identify the scene of a collision precisely to the emergency services – are in kilometres shown to one decimal place, but the distances to major destinations or to the next junction are in proper fractions of statute miles.)


At least this was inconvenient and not fatal. Several years ago in Oregon there was a well publicized incident where a CNET writer and his family followed an Internet map “shortcut” on to a road that was closed in the winter, got stuck in the snow and froze to death trying to reach help. (This was actually 2 issues, first the mapping software didn’t account for seasonal closures and second, the gate on the road had not been properly closed and locked.)


CNET’s own obituary piece states that the dead man in this case consulted a paper map, and makes no reference to online mapping being used at any point (it was 13 years ago, in 2006). Other accounts seem to confirm that there was no “internet map shortcut” involved, and that the family made at least one wrong turn anyway because of terrible visibility – so the accuracy or otherwise of any maps might have been moot.

FWIW, it seems that the rest of his family survived – they stayed with the vehicle and were found and rescued while the father set off to try to find help, wrongly thinking there was a town about 4 miles away (apparently it was more like 15 miles, a long walk even in excellent weather). He managed to travel 16 miles and was apparently 1 mile from a stash of supplies where he was ultimately found, so he gave it his best shot. But he didn’t make it. James Kim, RIP.

Generally speaking, I’d say that staying put is your best option, however desperate things seem.

That’s easy for me to say, of course, currently indoors during a mild and comfortable summer in the moderate climate and unmountainous topography of Oxfordshire (highest point 261 metres) but in extreme weather, cold or hot, jungle or desert, you need excellent navigation skills or equipment and typically more supplies and better protection than you can reasonably carry to make it if you set out to save yourself.


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