Technology

Snow closed the highway. GPS has mapped a developing detour in the Sierra Nevada.

The road that used to carry wagons during the Gold Rush zigzags through what is now a national forest and an area of ​​the Sierra Nevada known for skiing.

In winter, the rough road, known as Quincy-La Porte Road or District 511 Road in Plumas County, California, is close the door.

But Wendy Becktold, an editor from the Bay Area who was on her way to visit an ailing relative in Reno, Nev., on Monday, said she wasn’t aware of it when she was driving her Toyota Corolla. his rent. while the area is still grappling with a record blizzard.

Google Maps directed her that way because two major highways near Lake Tahoe were closed, she recounted in an interview Wednesday, echoing the concerns of other motorists and officials. public safety about the potential dangers of relying too much on GPS applications.

They say that Google Maps and Waze, also owned by Google, along with other mapping programs, do not always take into account seasonal road closures or rough terrain, emphasizing instead temporary road closure.

“There were a lot of cars behind us,” Ms. Becktold said. “Obviously, Google Maps routed everyone the same way.”

Becktold, 50, senior editor of Sierra, a magazine published by the Sierra Club, said she and her cousin had seen a tree branch on power lines and had crossed several cabins when they accidentally crushed them. . Then, a worker wearing a protective vest waved to them, said Ms. Becktold, who lives in Berkeley, California.

“He said, ‘People keep showing me their phones,’ recalls Miss Becktold. “He looks like he’s pissed.”

A Google Maps spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday that the tech company is taking steps to provide riders with accurate route information.

“Amid the unpredictable conditions from the current snowstorm, our team is working as quickly as possible to update routes in the Lake Tahoe area using insights from the local government. direction.” spokesperson, Madison Gouveia, said. “We are currently displaying a winter storm warning to alert motorists in the area and encourage people to stay alert and attentive.”

Google Maps did not respond to questions about the type of driver protections it uses, including warnings about winter road closures or unpaved roads. SFGate.com previously reported on white detours.

The county sheriff’s office said in Washoe County, Nev.

The family was looking for an alternative route en route to visit a loved one for the holidays in Truckee, California, during a hurricane that closed an 81-mile stretch of Interstate 80 and contributed to the month. 12 in the Sierra have the most snowfall.

According to the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, more than 17 meters of snow fell in the month to Thursday. The storm also closed Highway 50 for about 50 miles in the Sacramento Valley and Lake Tahoe Basin before it and I-80 reopened.

In one Facebook post On Tuesday, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office said the family ignored illuminated warning signs telling motorists not to use the Dog Valley-Henness Pass.

The sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post on Tuesday, adding that the family had been rescued.

It is not clear which GPS app the family used.

In one public warning Last week, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office said drivers frequently take the same detour when using GPS. According to the police chief, from November 2020 to February last year, emergency responders were called to 11 rescues.

Raquel Borrayo, a spokesman for Caltrans, California’s department of transportation, said in an email Wednesday that the agency has been trying to reinforce that over-compliance with GPS apps can pose a risk.

“When people try to use map apps like Waze or Google Maps to avoid blocked highways, they can sometimes find themselves in a very precarious and dangerous situation with dirt roads / roads that are not available. crops, heavy snowfall and no cell phone service,” Ms. Borrayo said. “We always advise people to stay on the highway and find alternative routes that way versus using the country road. We also recommend that people stay put and wait until the interstate or highway closures are lifted. ”

During this week’s storm, several people posted screenshots to Twitter of Google Maps and Waze giving directions to users to Henness Pass Road, where Sierra County Historical Society described as a remote and winding mountain road that rises to an elevation of 6,920 feet. The road, a major migration route from Virginia City, Nev., “was left on many maps,” according to the description on the historic society’s website.

Donner Pass, named after a family of deceased snow pioneers, some of whom resorted to cannibalism in the 1840s, is about 40 miles from the detour.

A Waze spokesperson said in an email Thursday that the company is committed to helping drivers navigate efficiently and safely.

“Due to this week’s blizzard and changing weather conditions, Waze . Community Map Editor “We continue to update our map with the latest real-time routing information,” said spokeswoman Caroline Bourdeau. “We encourage motorists to exercise caution and stay alert on the road,”

Waze has a filter that allows drivers to avoid unpaved roads.

Crystal A. Kolden, a geographer and disaster scientist who teaches at the University of California, Merced, said she couldn’t believe it when she saw Google Maps suggesting the Henness Pass and other outlying roads for her motorists looking for alternatives to I-80.

“They are almost impossible to drive in the summer,” said Professor Kolden on Wednesday. “How trustworthy do these companies have to be ethically responsible?”

Professor Kolden, 44, who was at his home near Sonora, California, in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains during the storm, criticized Google maps on Twitter. Some commenters mocked her post, saying motorists should be responsible for monitoring conditions and that she sounded like a millennium Prius driver.

“Blaming vulnerable people for going the wrong way is like blaming some poor person who easily drowned in their basement apartment in New York City not too long ago,” she said in a statement. interview, referring to the deadly September flood.

On Wednesday, Google Maps showed red dots with dashes on the path Ms Becktold took during her round trip on Monday. She said that warnings about road closures had not been in place for two days.

“It’s not like we were just playing around, looking for a day in the snow,” Ms Becktold said.

Ms. Becktold said she had no choice but to head back to Berkeley having traveled about 150 miles on the 200-mile trip. Her cousin, who had been trying to contact her ailing brother in Reno, ended up using a flight from San Francisco to Reno – via Los Angeles, she said.

“It seems silly in this day and age,” she said, “that there could not be clearer information online that these roads were closed.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/31/us/google-maps-waze-sierra-nevada-snow.html Snow closed the highway. GPS has mapped a developing detour in the Sierra Nevada.

Fry Electronics Team

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