GPS Mishaps: When Trust in Tech Leads to Trouble

As many as five to eight times a week, he said, drivers would mistakenly end up in his driveway because of inaccurate mapping data.

"The Garmin device with the NAVTEQ [data] is showing a road through my property that does not exist," he said.

He first noticed the problem last fall, but said as recently as last week a driver took a wrong turn to his home.

NAVTEQ, which supplies GPS device makers with mapping data, told that Preston's driveway was corrected in its database in October 2009 and was made available to its customers in the first quarter of this year.

"NAVTEQ prides itself on supplying the most accurate digital map of an ever changing world. Our mission is to provide our customers with the most up-to-date map content available today," a spokesman said in a statement.

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Consumers Can Report Problems, Suggest Changes Online

In addition to the thousands of field analysts who document road changes, NAVTEQ's Web site includes an online Map Reporter that lets consumers report problems and suggest changes.

But NAVTEQ's mission is complicated by the process that moves its data to its clients, such as Garmin, and the on to the consumer's device.

Though it may constantly update its data base, NAVTEQ releases the new updates to its clients only four times a year.

When owners of GPS devices receive those updates depends on the plans they choose to buy from GPS manufacturers. The most expensive plans may make them eligible for all four updates, the cheaper plans may give them only one update.

Those consumers who opt for less-expensive plans might be driving around with outdated and inaccurate maps. If customers don't take the time to update the software, they could be relying on old maps even if they paid for all the updates.

Tele Atlas, a mapping data division of TomTom, said it updates its database daily and, like NAVTEQ, has its data released to customers four times a year. But it said it's working to speed up the process.

"We are committed to reducing the time it takes for a real world change to be reflected in our maps. We're focused on delivering the freshest maps and expect to deliver a 48-hour turnaround time in the near future," a spokesperson said.

Even though GPS companies are trying to make the information as accurate as possible, experts said drivers shouldn't rely on high-tech tools alone.

"Like any device, they are fallible," said Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association. "I think it's definitely a good idea if you're traveling in an area with which you are unfamiliar that you also have a good paper map as well as a GPS just in case you do find yourself in a situation where you are lost and your GPS isn't helping you out."

Sundstrom also suggested traveling with emergency supplies, such as blankets and water.

AAA: Travel With Supplies, Use New and Old Technology

"We've become so accustomed to relying on our technology that we don't often think about what might occur if that technology fails us," he said. "And with that in mind we don't want to abandon some of the common-sense motoring advice that our parents and grandparents probably followed."

A Garmin spokeswoman had similar words of caution.

"[The device] is simply intended to give them navigation instructions and if they choose to follow it they are still responsible for following the rules of the road," she said. "Individuals need to make sure that they are using common sense while driving."

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