Confused GPS steers drivers down treacherous road near Ely
Drivers might have guessed something was amiss.
Some visitors trying to find their way to the North Woods town of Ely, Minn., got taken for a thrill ride by their GPS systems recently after officials opened a newly realigned section of highway not yet recognized by the computer.
After work on a new 2½-mile stretch of Hwy. 169 was finished between the towns of Tower and Ely in late June, some GPS systems — namely Apple’s — apparently routed cars onto tiny Six Mile Lake Road instead of the new, paved section.
That didn’t go so well for some drivers.
Six Mile Lake Road is a two-track, overgrown and muddy thoroughfare — a place better suited to off-road vehicles than the average sedan. Several vehicles got stuck in the muck and required a tow.
“Basically, they were following their GPS,” said Bob Reichensperger, who pulled out several motorists after they called his business, Bob’s Standard Service 24 hour Towing, for help. “It’s a bad road. When you start down it, you should have thought ‘Geez, something’s wrong here.’ ”
Michael Kalnbach, assistant district engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), said the road construction was finished — paved and striped — in late June, and the Apple maps weren’t corrected until late July.
MnDOT put out signs in the meantime, trying to direct traffic away from the back road.
“I submitted a complaint to Apple as did our district traffic engineer,” he said. “I’m not sure what impact that had, other than the fact that it did get revised.”
While engineers don’t hear of such GPS problems very often, Kalnbach advised motorists to “just use good judgment” if it seems their devices are directing them into strange places.
Reichensperger said it’s difficult to turn around on portions of the narrow road, so people would drive a little deeper onto it, hoping to find a good spot to change direction.
“To be honest with you, most of them were younger people,” he said.
While business “kinda went nuts,” with five tow requests in the past few weeks, Reichensperger said GPS misdirected a driver there once before, a couple of winters ago.
Luckily, there is a cellphone tower nearby so drivers can call for help.
“People are pretty happy when you show up,” he said.