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It was the first time GPS mishaps got a mainstream treatment – the 2007 episode of The Office in which Michael Scott thought he was following the correct GPS directions but instead drove into a lake. Since that episode our reliance on GPS directions and digital maps has only grown. But, incidents like this don’t just happen on TV.

Take, for example, the Californians returning from watching the Formula One race in Las Vegas. A massive dust storm had shut down the Interstate 15 Highway (the main route between Las Vegas and Los Angeles) in both directions. Shelby Easler and her family turned to Google Maps, which suggested an off-road alternate. They weren’t the only ones. A trail of cars using various GPS devices followed them into Nevada’s unforgiving desert. It quickly became clear they were in trouble.

“We ironically thought it would be a safer option,” Easler told the SFGate over Instagram messages. “And it did say it would be 50 minutes faster. It was our first time driving to/from Vegas, so we didn’t know that you can really only take the I-15 back and forth.”

They soon ran into other GPS users who had gone astray. “The first driver that turned around talked to us to tell us that the road gets washed out the higher into the mountain you get, and we have to turn around since the path leads nowhere. He was in a huge truck and was just driving straight through the bushes and shrubs to let people know to turn around.”

Easler and the rest of the off-roading nomads got lost and could not find their location using their mobile phones. They were forced to call 911. Emergency services were too busy with the dust storm to respond, but they were eventually able to get a tow truck. Most of the vehicles, including the Easler’s, were damaged by the rough terrain.

While Global Positioning Systems are accurate most of the time, when GPS is wrong, it tends to be wrong in a spectacular fashion. In May, two tourists drove their Chrysler minivan straight into Honokohau Harbor, in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. In June, a Californian on a road trip in New York State followed his GPS and wound up at the border crossing into Canada without a passport. Canadian Border Service Agency officers inspected his car and arrested him after discovering almost 180 kilograms of cannabis valued at more than $900,000. In Australia, a family in a Hyundai Tucson was lost in the outback because of bad GPS directions and had to be airlifted out.

Of course, GPS has been sending the occasional driver into oblivion since it was first introduced. In 2011, A British couple using GPS drove their Renault into a church in the German town of Immenstadt near the Austrian border, causing $34,000 of damages.

The difference between those early misadventures and the ones being committed today is that in the early days of GPS, drivers got lost because they did not know how to use it. Now, they get lost because they don’t know how to use anything else. Drivers are so dependent on GPS that they’ve lost the ability to navigate by any other means. Take the case of the Nevada dust bowl caravan; didn’t anybody have a physical map? One single piece of paper would have shown the impossibility of the route and prevented the entire debacle.

I keep maps (flat paper devices with geographical pictures) in my glove compartment. I am, no doubt, in the minority. When I drive in a foreign country, I buy a road atlas. It is force of habit. Back a million years ago, when I would take a long road trip, I would not only bring a map, I’d order a TripTik from CAA, a step-by-step set of directions printed up in a small booklet. It would arrive by mail.

Maps and paper TripTiks do not run out of battery power. They do not provide the wrong directions. I like them. GPS is fine when it doesn’t matter. Maps are there when it counts.

The next round of GPS wrong turns will come with a new technological twist.

GPS uses a network of satellites to determine a driver’s location and provide accurate directions. Now artificial intelligence is being integrated with GPS to make it a more powerful tool. In October, Verge reported that Google Maps was introducing a range of “new AI-powered features to Maps, including more immersive navigation, easier-to-follow driving directions and better organized search results. The end result is an experience that will likely remind many users of Google Search.”

Sounds fine but I’ll keep a map in the glove compartment just in case.

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