Online maps are a great tool in helping the public find the most efficient routes between places.
However, they can also be misleading.
Enter B.C. Search and Rescue, which says don’t fully rely on smartphones when travelling by vehicle, as it’s possible that online mapping may show incorrect routes, or roads that aren’t meant for regular vehicles.
“It’s fairly regular,” Dwight Yochim, a senior manager with B.C. Search and Rescue, said when asked about people running into trouble when relying on online maps. “And it’s often when you’re on a highway. We find that the usual time that happens is when there’s an accident and the highway is shut down.
“People turn to Google Maps and they look for alternative routes. Unfortunately, even in the best of times in summer, (backcountry roads) that sometimes show up in Google maps are not the routes you should be taking.”
Yochim continued, saying “we’ve had several instances where people have gotten stuck in the snow in the mountain passes. It’s not what you should be doing.”
He says when motorists are confronted with highway closures, they should wait for the road to reopen, as some forest service roads are only meant for heavy-duty vehicles.
“Google Maps doesn’t show you the condition of the road that you may be taking. And (backcountry roads), they can be unplowed, they’re seasonal, they’re not open for traffic,” he said.
Asked when stuck motorists travelling along backcountry roads reach out for help, Yochim said requests for assistance come during the shoulder seasons and winter.
“Google Maps is great to get you around in urban environments and the main highways, from point A to B. And it will find alternative routes,” said Yochim. “But it will not tell you what the conditions of those routes are.”
Yochim said recently that two women were travelling from Prince George to Edmonton and the highway shut down during their travels.
So they found an alternative route online and wound up 20 kilometres off the highway in the snow.
“And if it wasn’t for Apple’s SOS, it would have taken a long time to find them,” said Yochim. “That would have been a 700-kilometre search, two provinces, multiple teams.”
Last spring, Yochim said search and rescue teams came to the aid of a motorist stuck on a logging road that wasn’t open near Boston Bar.
“Taking those alternative routes will often get you in trouble,” said Yochim. “Just be patient. Let the highway reopen and then you can get home safely. It’s not worth the risk to try and get around an incident on the highway to save an hour or two.”
Another item to consider for those choosing to brave forestry service roads: Cellphone range is limited, so phones may become useless if help is needed.
“The unfortunate thing is these routes are often off the beaten path and there is no cellphone service,” said Yochim. “If you get yourself in trouble in your vehicle and you’re stuck, stay with your vehicle.”
“It’s much easier to find a vehicle. If they start to walk out, we’ve had instances where what would have been a very quick search takes days because the individual is now walking and has gone off the road to try and find a shortcut. Stay with the vehicle. Stay warm. You’re dry, you’re not injured, you’re at no risk. At some point, the family will say you’re missing and we will come looking for you.”