Is Your Navigation System Dangerous?

March 27, 2008
Navigation systems can be a great help, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, they can also pose their own danger -- especially when drivers invest too much faith in their spanking-new GPS systems.

The financial daily tells a couple of terrible stories in warning about how to use navigation systems properly. First there's the tale of Norman Saussman, who found himself stuck in traffic on his way home from Santa Fe, N.M. He turned to his navigation system for an alternate route. The device sent him up a mountain on a path he followed until he stopped at the end of the road with only a flimsy guardrail between his front bumper and a 200-foot drop. Another user of GPS systems, Hill Wright, followed directions onto a road that was initially paved, but soon turned to gravel. Soon, the gravel became a dirt trail. Wright claims that this glitch in his navigation system took him three hours out of his way.

Many owners of GPS systems complain that their systems get them lost, take them to dead ends, and even direct them into oncoming traffic. Aside from getting unintended directions from navigation systems, drivers who program the systems while moving put themselves as well as their peers in as much danger as a driver writing a text message.

Being sent on a bad route poses especially dangerous problems when the GPS user is a truck driver. Reports have been made involving truck drivers being sent into residential areas and damaging trees, walls and fences because the streets are not designed to suit their vehicles.

Telematics Research Group estimates that 49 million GPS systems will be in use in 2008. Considering there are only approximately 100 million licensed drivers in the U.S. half of the drivers will be potentially distracted or endangered by GPS systems. The surge in the number of owners is largely due to the fact that GPS devices can now be purchased for an average price of $225, half what consumers paid just one year ago.

In our experience, there are three simple rules to keep in mind when using a GPS/navigation system:

1. Always obey street signs and traffic signals before the GPS.
2. DO NOT set your destination while driving.
3. When in doubt, pull over and give yourself and the GPS system a break, and perhaps refer to a printed map.

That said, we've hit a few junctions that weren't the ones we'd planned. Do you have a funny or frustrating GPS/navigation system story to share? Tell us in a comment below.

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