A crash on Peña Boulevard, a feeder road leading to Denver International Airport, was backing up traffic for frustrated drivers when Google Maps appeared to offer them a solution: a detour that promised to cut travel time by nearly half. About 100 drivers followed Google's advice and ended up getting stuck in an inches deep muddy mess on a dirt road in the middle of a field.
Google Redirects Drivers into Muddy Nightmare
According to a new report in CNN, drivers on their way to Denver International Airport, took a Google Maps recommended detour down some dirt roads, one of which had been saturated by a recent bout of rain. This became a nasty choke point as several cars began to skid and sink into the mud, blocking the road entirely and trapping almost 100 cars behind them in the middle of the wide-open, Colorado nowhere.
Driver Connie Monsees, driving to the airport to pick up her husband, hit the snarled traffic leading to the airport caused by the earlier crash. "I thought 'maybe there's a detour' and pulled it up on Google Maps, and it gave me a detour that was half the time," Monsees told CNN. "It was 43 minutes initially, and it was going to be 23 instead -- so I took the exit and drove where they told me to.
"There were a bunch of other cars going down [the dirt road] too, so I said, 'I guess it's OK.'"
"It was not OK," she added.
Fortunately for Monsees, her car had all-wheel-drive, so she was able to successfully navigate the mud. She was even able to help others who had been stuck make it to the airport in time for their flight.
Google, meanwhile, acknowledged the situation but said that the roads were not marked off as private roads, saying in a statement released by the company that "We take many factors into account when determining driving routes, including the size of the road and the directness of the route.
"While we always work to provide the best directions, issues can arise due to unforeseen circumstances such as weather. We encourage all drivers to follow local laws, stay attentive, and use their best judgment while driving."
Not Google Maps' First--or Worst--Misadventure
While this situation probably felt like Google's mapping algorithm had specifically targeted them for this special brand of torture, this was just one of many such incidents where Google Maps caused major havoc. In one case, it almost got a woman killed.
In 2017, Amber VanHecke decided that she wanted to see the Grand Canyon, so she loaded up Google Maps and followed the directions it gave her. Traveling through the desert can be eerie, and dangerous, so when VanHecke saw that she only had 70 miles worth of gas left in the tank, she took comfort in the reassuring directions Google Maps was giving her, telling her that she was only 35 miles away from a highway.
It then told her to make a turn onto a road in the middle of the desert that doesn't exist, sending her off in the wrong direction, deep into the heart of Grand Canyon National Park, where she inevitably ran out of gas. Fortunately for VanHecke, she had packed plenty of food and water for the trip, which became her only sustenance for the next 119 hours.
“I felt very disconnected from everything and everyone and I thought, ‘is there a search out?’ at some point, that crossed my mind," VanHecke said of her ordeal. "Apparently there was miscommunication somewhere and no one was looking for me.”
An experienced hiker and former Girl Scout, VanHecke crafted signs in the sand visible from the air that spelled out 'HELP', and she did her best to conserve her food and water, but after five days without cell phone reception and dwindling supplies, she recorded videos to her family and friends saying her goodbyes. Then she started hiking out of the canyon with the goal of getting just enough reception to make a call to emergency services.
The call worked even though it dropped after only a few seconds. Able to give emergency dispatchers enough information to go on, a rescue helicopter was able to find the sign she'd written in the sand, and being only a few kilometers away in the open desert, VanHecke was found and rescued soon after.
After an ordeal like that, what's a little mud and a missed flight in the end?