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GPS gets couple stuck for three days

An SUV's GPS tells a holidaying couple to turn right. They obey and get stuck for three days. This as scientists begin to examine whether GPS devices are dangerous.

Are you submissive? Do you do what others or other machines tell you to do?

Well, according to the Associated Press, John and Starry Rhoads took a high road that almost turned into a very low road indeed, all because they did what their Toyota Sequoia's GPS told them to.

Apparently, the high desert of Eastern Oregon is a lovely place. Until you ask your GPS for the shortest route to your destination and it sends you down a remote forest road, without actually saying: "Yo, people. You go that way and it's really remote and foresty."

Thompson Reservoir, where the Rhoads were reportedly stuck in 18 inches of snow for three days. Google Maps

Once they had gone where they were told, the Rhoads were on the road to no return. They ended up stuck in 18 inches of snow near a place called the Thompson Reservoir.

The Rhoads, from Nevada, are not dilettantes in a dilemma. They had plenty of warm clothing and food. And they had cell phones equipped with, yes, GPS. There was only one slight, delicate problem. They had no service.

I know there will be some of you who will hasten to hiss that they must have been AT&T customers. I can find no evidence of this. But I can find evidence that they were stuck for three days before one of their cell phones sprang to life and GPSed their co-ordinates to 911.

You will, I hope, enjoy the words of Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger, when the AP attracted his attention: "GPS almost did 'em in and GPS saved 'em."

There's another side to such words of bravado, though. It's as well to remember that in 2006, an Oregon forest took the life of CNET Reviews editor James Kim.

One of the things that came out of his death was the revelation that Oregon authorities at the time knew very little about how to even trace a cell phone. In cases such as that of Kim, the understanding of how a tragedy occurred can lead to a better understanding of how technology might help, as well as, sometimes, hinder.

For example, you might feel like a stiff conversation with some of your own technology when I tell you that the Rhoads' happy ending coincided with news that some British psychologists are to direct the world's attention to their view that GPS is, in fact, "potentially dangerous".

The Telegraph helpfully disseminated news of impending research to be conducted by brains from Lancaster University and Royal Holloway College, London. These professors have been moved by other research that indicates 78 percent of accidents are caused by drivers not paying attention.

They will therefore analyze how much GPS contributes to that inattention. Polly Dalton, one of the researchers on the project, told the Telegraph: "By the end of these experiments, we will be able to provide clear measurements of the ways in which the use of in-car navigation systems might interfere with attention and memory performance."