Google Maps unreliable on our country roads

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Road into Mount Bruce, Karijini National Park.
Camera IconRoad into Mount Bruce, Karijini National Park. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr.

An over-reliance on digital mapping to travel outback WA is putting millenial tourists in danger and turning drivers off trips to bucket-list adventure destinations.

Predicted drive times traversing unsealed roads are often wildly inaccurate on Google and Apple Maps. In one instance, Google estimates the drive from Karratha to Karijini National Park would take longer than a Melbourne to Adelaide road trip.

Karijini’s Flying Sandgroper Adventure Tours owner Pete West said digital maps were also driving more tourists onto dangerous roads.

“Driving from Tom Price to Ningaloo, people will choose the shortest route, which takes people on an unsealed, corrugated road,” he said.

“You will see people driving vans and rental vehicles with strict regulations about unsealed roads and, to have an accident on unsealed roads in a rental vehicle, the company will walk away.

“It endangers people to take roads they wouldn’t take if they just rolled a map out.”

Predicted distances on digital maps are often far from reality in regional WA.
Camera IconPredicted distances on digital maps are often far from reality in regional WA. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr/Google/Tom Zaunmayr

Mr West said millennials often trusted digital maps over the advice of tour operators.

According to Google Maps, the 360km drive between Karratha and Karijini is a nine-hour slug across unsealed road. In reality, that journey takes about four hours, or five on the highway via Port Hedland.

It’s a similar story in Shark Bay, where Google Maps’ prediction of the Denham to Steep Point route is double the actual drive time.

In the Kimberley, the three-hour drive from Broome to Cape Leveque is stated as six hours.

Kooljaman Eco Retreat acting manager Maree Milne said tourists would often call to say they didn’t make the trip because of misinformation on digital maps.

“When people ring up and say they didn’t come because of how far they thought it was it does concern us,” she said.

“I just don’t know how Google Maps can get it so wrong, but they don’t seem to change.

“I think what helps a lot of people is if they are stopped, a local will stop to check if they are okay.”

Australia’s North West chief executive Natasha Mahar said a bit of research at visitor centres or online would go a long way to alleviating confusion.

“In an ideal world, Google Maps would reflect accurate distances between attractions and towns in regions, however we are discovering anecdotally that often this is not the case, particularly when visitors leave a sealed road for the adventure of dirt,” she said.

A Google spokeswoman said the company was investigating options to improve accuracy of digital maps.

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