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Technology warning

Driving into danger: Be wary of map apps

With many mountain roads closed for the winter, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is warning drivers to use common sense when it comes to following driving directions from a GPS device or cellphone map app.

Sheriff’s Office search and rescue deputies have already responded to calls involving people who followed directions provided by their phone’s mapping system — and ended up stranded on closed or unmaintained roads.

Sgt. Shawn Richards pointed to the example of Forest Road 37, a popular route during the summer that connects Highway 140 near Fish Lake to Dead Indian Memorial Road, which drivers can then take into Ashland.

During the winter, Forest Road 37 isn’t maintained or patrolled and is closed to motor vehicle traffic. Several signs posted at each end of the route warn drivers about the seasonal closure.

“It may look like a shortcut on a map, but in the winter, Forest Road 37 is essentially a snowmobile trail. It is not to be used by regular vehicles,” Richards said.

Much of Forest Road 37 is outside cellphone range, making it difficult or impossible to call for help. And since the road is closed, stranded drivers aren’t likely to encounter other people passing by, Richards said.

The Sheriff’s Office warns the situation is similar for many forest roads in Jackson County. They aren’t plowed or otherwise maintained during winter months.

Richards said it’s best to stick to highways and heavily traveled roads.

The Sheriff’s Office reminds drivers to be prepared for an emergency any time they are driving in the winter.

Keep food, water, blankets and other gear in your vehicle. Start your trip with a full tank of gas. Before you start driving, check the weather forecast as well as road conditions on your planned route via tripcheck.com.

Also, be aware when it’s appropriate to call for emergency help. For example, if your vehicle gets stuck in snow or mud, it may not be a true emergency that warrants help from search and rescue teams.

“If you know where you are, you’re uninjured, and you’re able to use your cell phone, it’s more appropriate to call for a tow truck than to call 911,” Richards said.

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