Does satellite navigation make us dumber?

It sounds as though Adrian might have been right when he blogged about the erratic behaviour of motorists who have satellite navigation devices.

Yahoo! News reports that some drivers rely on their in-car navigation so much that they lose the ability to use common sense and spatial awareness – and end up driving into rivers… (amongst other blunders).

I have to agree with the Blaupunkt spokesperson quoted in the article:

“If a traffic light is red it’s obvious you have to stop even if the satnav says ‘drive straight on’,” he said. “People who drive into rivers and then blame their satnav are just too humiliated to accept blame themselves.”

Originally found via Tech Digest.

19 thoughts on “Does satellite navigation make us dumber?”

  1. My father-out-law’s shiny new Christmas sat nav was trying to repeatedly direct us into the river on boxing day… makes me think that sat nav software developers have some sort of sick competition going on! Bonus points for 4x4s perhaps! :o)

  2. Even I, not the sharpest crayon in the box, know enough not to drive into the river, even if someone/thing tells me to.

    I love sat nav for what it is … a way to safely navigate to new places without endangering everyone else on the road by squinting at a paper map in a darkened car while driving.

  3. Oh my gosh, I get all crazy when my husband is staring at the gps while he’s driving! I tell him to keep his eyes on the road and let me worry about the navigation.

    I have used the gps in the car by myself a few times, I try to be extra careful to keep my eyes on the road and make sure it’s close enough to me on the window that I don’t have to look too far away. I’ve actually determined that having the gps is probably safer than me trying to navigate a map or directions while driving though, especially when I make a wrong turn…the gps gets me back on the right track easy enough. I also see how easy it is to get distracted by it.

  4. I love my TomTom πŸ™‚ but then (as certain readers know), I can be geographically challenged sometimes…

    To be fair, I hardly ever use it when I know where I am headed – so I don’t have it with me on my regular trips to the office. It can be really handy when I’m going somewhere new, but not infallible. I’ve had very few instances where the maps have been incorrect, although obviously that’s a moving target for the manufacturers. Online updates make this a bit easier to manage.

    I guess the thing that I’d like them to work on is a better interface to the MP3 player. I have a remote with my TomTom 910, but probably shouldn’t use it (or look at the screen) when driving. Voice-activation is clearly the next big thing… πŸ™‚

  5. I guess there is a danger to using them, but I’m sure plenty of accidents are causing by panicked motorists who don’t know where they are going, too. I’m going to San Jose in February, and it’ll be the first time I’ve driven in the US, so am insisting upon SatNav. I’ve seen the Hertz-branded SatNav before and was fairly impressed, so I’m hoping it’ll enable me to keep my mind on the right-hand-side and my foot off the clutch, as well as my eyes on the traffic, rather than the map on the passenger seat. That’s the theory anyway…

  6. I got a TT510 for xmas and am in love with it. One of the most useful things to me, even beyond the navigation portion, is simply knowing the name of the street I am on as well as the names of the cross streets.

    Here in Boston (nee, Massachusetts) they don’t seem to believe in proper road signage, so this is a real life saver sometimes.

  7. Hi Sean, thanks for visiting. I agree that the street names aspect is handy… although we have generally good signs over here in the UK (my opinion – especially compared with Poland, which my in-laws would agree with – in fact some would say we have far too many signs here).

    The text-to-speech technology for reading out the street names in the TT seems pretty good, too. Rather obviously though, you can’t get the street names when you use the prerecorded “amusing” voices like John Cleese or Yoda.

  8. My lowly 510 doesn’t have text-to-speech, but I can live without it… I’ve found that occasionally some of the roads here really confuse the TT, though. For instance, yesterday I was told to turn the wrong way onto a one-way road.

    I’m hoping the new US map updates I just ordered from TT help this situation.

  9. One solution could be to use a non-routing GPS… I have a Garmin eTrex, which I mostly use for hiking and geocaching, but I can look for addresses on it (at least in North America). Once I have the address, I have to figure out how to get there. I am also in the habit of getting a map of everywhere I go, so that is helpful.
    On the automotive side, I have tried the Hertz NeverLost and I tend to use it the first time I drive in a new city. I must say that the current (3rd) generation is much better than the first, which was playfully dubbed “EverLost”… But even with the gadget, I still get a paper map. I guess I am just too old-fashioned.

  10. Sean, I had the “wrong way on a one-way road” experience on my very first outing with the TomTom. In that case, the road layout had only been changed relatively recently. I didn’t realise that the 510 can’t do text-to-speech – doesn’t it tell you the road names aloud as it gives you directions?

    Charles, I’m thinking of a smaller GPS device too – Heidi keeps talking about geocaching, and I’m getting intrigued. I’d also like to be able to geotag my photos more efficiently.

  11. Andy, I guess one of the distingushing features between the 510 and 910 is the text to speech. My 510 says things like “Take the first exit off the roundabout” in one of the prerecorded voices, but it doesn’t read the street names, etc.

    The “one-way” issue I had was on a road that hasn’t changed in a long time, afaik, it was an offramp from a highway. πŸ˜›

    Another problem I have I am as of yet unable to get the unit to use the EDGE data service on my Cingular Samsung D807. A bunch of other Samsung phones are listed, but mine isn’t, and even though I can establish a data connection on my mac with the phone, the same settings won’t work on the 510. TT support tried to help, but to no avail. I’m hoping this is resolved at some point, as I’d really like to try the traffic routing.

    I plan on using my TT for geocaching at some point. It’s not the smallest GPS unit, but it’s certainly not the largest I’ve used..

  12. I’ve really found that using a combination of Google Earth (or maps) with Flickr’s new geotag option is the best way to geotag images. There’s some interesting Firefox extensions and Greasemonkey scripts too…I had to update these a lot with new FF versions though so I stopped using them.

    Although when the invent the digital camera that geotags images automatically, I’ll be the first to buy it πŸ™‚

  13. I can live without the TTS… The only instructions I gave on my Christmas Wish List were “A GPS Navigation System”. With such crappy constraints, I am very happy with what I ended up with. πŸ™‚

  14. It’s a great toy. And I’m with Kelly on its utility. However I *do* get bemused by it insisting “turn Right now” when doing so would take me across the path of oncoming traffic and into a brick wall. (It obviously assumes traffic in Oxford goes at > 0 MPH.) πŸ™‚

    And the other day it got awfully confused about the correct way to travel from Salisbury to Wimborne.

    And, the same day (at Stonehenge) , it thought I was driving along 100 yards South of the road and parallel to it. πŸ™‚

  15. I found it a very disconcerting experience at first, adjusting to driving with it. It’s a lot of trust to place in a machine, and you can’t help but feel that you’ve given over a part of your independence. It’s also definitely distracting, giving you yet another thing to look at (especially since I find that it’s much better to look at the map than listen to the voice). When we have augmented reality navigation, and the correct road and lane to get to your destination is simply a slightly different colour (and the destination has a huge beam shining down from heaven onto it, like the star of bethlehem, visible from miles away), then they’ll be much better.

  16. “panicked motorists who don’t know where they are going, too.” That’s quite true, but my guess is that having a GPS makes you more likely to be a panicked motorist who doesn’t know where you are going than if you didn’t have one. When you don’t have one you take responsibility for your route yourself, and it’s inconvenient, but you’re more likely to know what you’re doing.

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