The James Kim Tragedy – Did Online Driving Directions Contribute?

Filed in GIS Learning by on December 9, 2006
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Many have weighed in on the James Kim tragedy, from outdoor survivalists to rescue experts. James Kim, his wife Kati and two young daughters were trying to cut across the remote back roads of the Oregon wilderness as a shortcut. The ill-fated trip resulted in the family taking a wrong turn and ending up stuck in the snow. After seven days of waiting in their car, James Kim struck out on his own to try and find help for his family. Sadly, while his family was eventually rescued, James Kim succumbed to the cold and died before rescuers could locate him. 

The Associated Press touched off a debate on whether online directions may have contributed to the series of terrible events that resulted in this tragedy. AP reported, “Authorities say the cyber-savvy family may have plucked the route from Grants Pass to Gold Beach from an online mapping service, unaware of the elements.”  The Age, a newspaper based out of Australia, ran a comparison in suggested routes between Yahoo Maps, Map Quest and Google Maps and found that Yahoo Maps and MapQuest suggested a route that was safer than the Google Maps route that provided a route through roads that can be dangerous in the wintertime. An article in the Seattle Times highlighted the issue of relying on the accuracy of many of these online mapping services that may not be using the most current or accurate route information. The article quoted Oregon Department of Transportation District Manager John Vial out of Medford, “Our state highway maps show that route as not passable in wintertime, and we try to make sure people know that.”

If, indeed, the Kims did use either online services to pull mapping directions or used GPS to guide their route, the lesson learned is to always verify the accuracy of the information provided. For example, Yahoo Maps adds a disclaimer to their driving directions stating ” When using any driving directions or map, it’s a good idea to do a reality check and make sure the road still exists, watch out for construction, and follow all traffic safety precautions. This is only to be used as an aid in planning.” Also to keep in mind, that online driving technology is limited in that it doesn’t provide background information when supplying directions. Only recently are many of the mapping sites tying in real time traffic information to provide a better estimate of drive times. These sites, however, don’t provide information that may have benefited the Kims such as the precarious winter driving conditions of trying to navigate Bear Camp Road.

Participate in the discussion about online mapping at Google Maps Mania’s Blog: http://googlemapsmania.blogspot.com/2006/12/mapping-chatter-surrounding-james-kim.html

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