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How Safe are Sat Nav Systems?

By: Tracy Wilkinson - Updated: 4 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Satellite Navigation Sat Nav Add-on

Satellite Navigation systems have been a godsend to many of the UK's motorists, not least sales reps and those whose days are far more productive now they don't spend hours wandering around B roads getting lost anymore. Many of us can't remember what life was like before sat nav came along.

Sales of sat nav devices are growing all the time, thanks in part to small and convenient add-on systems. But research warns that if used incorrectly, in-car navigation equipment can be more of a hindrance than a help to the nation's drivers.

Surprisingly, new and constantly improving technology involved in satellite navigation systems and similar devices was in some cases proved to be more distracting than trying to read a map at the steering wheel.

Loss of Concentration

A survey carried out for Privilege, centred around just under 2000 UK drivers and found that using a satellite navigation system made 19% of drivers lose concentration, compared to 17% that were reading a map spread over the steering wheel while in motion.

1 in 10 drivers admitted to using the controls on their satellite navigation system while they were driving the car, instead of programming their route before they hit the road. Over half of these also admitted that doing so took their eyes off the road, and could have led to accidents.

1 in 8 didn't check a route they were not familiar with in advance, and just relied on the technology to find their way for them.

1 in 4 said that they read maps while driving, although from the results of the survey it seemed that in some cases this might not be as distracting as using a sat nav system. Either way, it's worrying. The survey also brought to light the fact that drivers who used either sat nav or a paper map while driving took their eyes off the road for an average of 10 seconds at an average speed of 60mph, during which time they would travel twice the length of an average football field pitch.

Spend Time Planning Your Route

Ian Parker, Managing Director of Privilege Insurance, offered advice on how to stay safe with sat-nav: "Privilege urges drivers to spend a few minutes planning their route on a map or Internet route finder so they can concentrate on the road once they set off. Drivers en-route should take a break every two hours anyway and so can use this time to check their location and the next section of the journey. Perhaps safest of all would be for drivers on an unknown route to take a passenger with them and allow them to navigate."

It's not just the distraction the devices can prove to be that causes a problem.

Being Sent The Wrong Way

Sat nav systems have also caused problems in previously quiet and rural areas, by sending drivers through them, despite the fact that the roads are too small to cope with the heavy levels of traffic being directed along them.

Areas such as Bradpole in Dorset have been hit by the issue, turning an obscure single carriageway once used by King Charles when fleeing from the roundheads, into an area that is being besieged by commuters and truck drivers who are continually getting stuck on the narrow roads.

This is a problem that affects both motorists and residents. As well as sending drivers the wrong way down one-way streets, taking them onto muddy and sometimes flooded tracks and on some occasions, into lakes and farmyards, it has left the residents in these areas furious, as you would expect.

Earlier this year, locals in a Yorkshire village named ´Crackpot´ demanded that their sleepy location was removed from sat nav database systems after villagers ended up making at least 1 trip a week in their tractor to remove hapless sales reps who had ended up trapped and frightened on the edge of a 100ft precipice that the systems had led them to.

The reason these problems occur is that the sat nav system will usually devise the shortest route from A to B for the driver, and will not differentiate between unclassified and classified roads.

Tom Tom, a leading manufacturer of sat nav systems in the UK admitted earlier in the year that they received on average 100 complaints a week from drivers who had been sent the wrong way by their systems. They are working alongside motorists and independent mapping companies to sort out the issues, but in the meantime, be careful and remember - technology isn't foolproof!

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