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Drivers Say Google Maps Failed Them in Snowstorm

They say they were routed down closed or treacherous California mountain roads
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2021 10:00 AM CST
Drivers Say Google Maps Failed Them in Snowstorm
Glenbrook Basin and Loma Rica Ranch remain covered in about a foot of snow on Tuesday in Grass Valley, Calif.   (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)

(Newser) – Authorities in California say weather events like this month's record-breaking snowfall in the Lake Tahoe area should be a reminder for people not to rely too heavily on their GPS systems. Drivers complained this week that when highways were closed, services like Google Maps and Waze, which is also owned by Google, sent them on hazardous detours through mountain passes. UC Merced professor of forest sciences Crystal Kolden tweeted a screenshot of one such route Monday, SFGate reports. "This is an abject failure," she told Google Maps. "You are sending people up a poorly maintained forest road to their death in a severe blizzard." No deaths were reported, though one family from Southern California was stranded for two hours when their vehicle got stuck on a snow-covered dirt road. They'd ignored illuminated warnings signs and followed GPS instructions instead, authorities said.

"Hire people who can address winter storms in your code," Kolden told Google. Some drivers said they were directed down roads that were closed in winter. Wendy Becktold tells the New York Times that she was among numerous drivers the Google app routed down the closed County Road 511 in the Sierra Nevada. "There were a lot of cars behind us," she says. "Clearly, Google Maps was routing everyone the same way." She says an "exasperated" worker who turned her around said, "Everybody just keeps showing me their phones." The California Department of Transportation—Caltrans—and the US Forest Service urged motorists to ignore GPS advice after a section of 1-80 was closed this week, saying drivers could put crews clearing the roads at risk and would be turned around, reports Jalopnik.

Caltrans spokeswoman Raquel Borrayo tells the Times that people using mapping apps to dodge closures can face "precarious and dangerous situations with unplowed roads/dirt roads, heavy amounts of snow, and zero cellphone service." She says the agency always tells people "to stay on highways and find alternate routes that way vs. using rural roads, or to "just stay put and wait until the interstate or highway closure has been lifted." A Google Maps spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company worked as quickly as possible to update routes during the snowstorm. Jalopnik notes that some critics say the app's "road closed' and "road open" states should add a third, "proceed with caution" state. (Read more GPS stories.)

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