Before you follow the advice of your GPS and head down that narrow country lane, you might want to consult an old-fashioned paper map.
A little bit of misdirection from a GPS device created a dangerous situation for a truck driver early Tuesday in McDowell County, and he was hardly the first motorist to have such an experience.
Trooper B.D. Gillespie of the Welch detachment of the West Virginia State Police said the accident was reported at 1:30 a.m. The truck driver was headed to the Walmart in Big Four about 5 miles southeast of Welch on U.S. 52 when his GPS device routed him onto Airport Road, a winding, one-way road that is impassable to large trucks.
"There was very little or no damage done to the truck and trailer," Gillespie said. "But the guardrail was torn up."
A wrecker was brought in to remove the truck from its precarious perch on a steep embankment. No injuries were reported.
The Global Positioning System was developed by the Department of Defense and made available for civilian use in 1983. Twenty-four GPS satellites circle Earth more than 12,000 miles in the sky, ensuring every point on Earth can see at least six GPS satellites at any time.
GPS provides accurate location services: Real-world data collected by the FAA show that some high-quality GPS receivers provide better than 3-meter horizontal accuracy. But devices are only as smart as the data they use.
Nick Keller, addressing coordinator for McDowell County, said third-party navigation companies don't always have the most up-to-date address data.
He said navigation companies like Tele Atlas, NAVTEQ and Google must request updated mapping information from the Statewide Addressing and Mapping Board. The board would then have to ask for the data from individual counties.
Rural McDowell County is still in the process of posting street signs at the beginning of roads and assigning addresses to all homes and businesses.
A long period of time often passes before new data is requested, leaving a "disconnect" to recently assigned addresses.
"Most of the companies haven't requested the info or don't request the info," Keller said.
Carrie Bly, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said GPS-related accidents like the one in McDowell County are increasingly common in the Mountain State.
"It happens frequently. It is a problem," Bly said. "There is a difference in looking at a map and where a GPS is leading you."
She said the problem is particularly severe in Tucker County, on sections of W.Va. 72 and U.S. 219.
"It's becoming a weekly occurrence where they are having to tow trucks away because they have been following GPS up roads they shouldn't go up," Bly said.