Of all the modern electronic devices available today, the global positioning system or GPS is the one that can sometimes cause me the greatest satisfaction and the greatest angst, all in the same day. When they work properly, they can save a lot of time and confusion, but when they don’t, confusion and lost time can become the order of the day.
My first such device was a hand-held one that cost less than $100, and I never had a real problem with it, despite its low cost. Unfortunately, since that first device I have owned three vehicles with very expensive built-in GPS systems. it is my opinion that the cheap ones work far better.
The built-ins, actually from two different automobile manufacturers, have caused me ongoing problems for the last several years. For some reason, they are programmed to only let you type the name of a town when the device recognizes that name. I have tried on several occasions to type in the name of a town only to have the keyboard highlight, and willing to accept, only a few letters, none of which are the next letter in the town’s name. Then when I try using voice commands, the device does not recognize that town. These are places that really do exist, and are shown on the map or used in a postal address, but for some reason were never programmed into the device.
I recently attempted to drive to an address north of Cincinnati that I had never visited before. After nearly a half-hour of unsuccessfully trying to get my car’s GPS to accept the address, I called for directions. I then learned that the valid postal address, which is “Liberty Township” will only be accepted by a GPS if you type in “Hamilton.” This is unfathomable to me because there are at least three towns — Fairfield, Mason, and Middletown — that are closer to my destination than Hamilton. I had typed in all three of them without success, and I never even considered Hamilton as a possibility.
On a trip to the hills of eastern Kentucky, I wound up driving 40 miles more than necessary when the car’s GPS for some unknown reason got it’s compass reversed. I was using a map and the compass, and had not entered a destination into the GPS.
I have always had a pretty good sense of direction, and when I had driven about 20 miles after turning onto this one highway, I realized that something was wrong; I just didn’t feel that I was going the direction that the compass said I was headed. I backtracked, pulled off the road, and checked the compass. It said that I was heading due north. Right in front of me was a road sign saying that the next town was 12 miles straight ahead. I checked the map and sure enough, the town was due south, and my compass was exactly 180 degrees off. When I restarted the car after buying gas, the compass corrected itself. My car dealer’s service department had no explanation.
Possibly the most ludicrous GPS error occurred a few months ago. We were headed to my hometown in Adams County, and my wife wanted to stop by an outlet mall that was just a few miles out of our way. I knew exactly where the mall was located, but I wasn’t sure of the exit, so I used voice commands and entered it into the GPS. It gave me proper directions, but as we neared the destination and I could actually see the outlet mall ahead, the device suddenly informed me, “Your destination is in an area that is not accessible by highway.”
I drove on into the mall, but I wonder if I should inform the Tanger Outlets Co. about my GPS message; it might help them understand why their mall doesn’t seem to have a lot of customers.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.