Satnav savvy ?

I got thinking last week about the actual impact of GPS navigation systems on peoples driving habits after reports of satnavs sending people through villages as short cuts. I’m not sure this is actually the case, why I’m uncertain was an experience on a Friday evening a few weeks previously…

I travel north up the M3 almost every night, and just after the Farnborough junction hit the end of a 10-15 mile tailback. Using the AA trafficwatch service on my mobile I discovered the cause of the queue was an accident at the M25 junction a few hours earlier which had involved a truck carrying livestock !! visions of cows and sheep on the motorway – the end result was the motorway was completely closed.

As I sat in the traffic in the darkness I could not but help to notice than at least 10% of the cars had the glow of a GPS navigation system on their dashboards, if you regularly drive in the UK at night you will no doubt have become aware of the rapid growth of satnavs over the past six months or so – well done tom-tom !!!

So as I switched my satnav to detour mode, to get me off the motorway at the next junction, I had the expectation I would be joined by many others making our ways through the A-Roads of Surrey. However when I came off the motorway and followed the route shown in the map below I was almost the only car on the road, it seemed many where happy to sit and wait on the motorway ?

Detour map

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

With some smugness I rejoined the now empty M3 at the M25 Junction and drove home… so my question is, just how confident are people in using satnav’s to go “off route” ?

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

14 comments

  1. Thierry

    Do you really need a GPS to figure out a simple detour like this…? 😉

    Or just an explorer’s mindset… some people have it, others don’t and seem quite happy to have a satnav gadget that tells them, yes indeed you are stuck in a jam (wow!)

  2. David Andrews

    As an OS contract worker matching AddressPoint in the East Midlands I use my Garmin i3 constantly, and find it invaluable in navigating between villages. Like you Ed, I also use the “detour” facility regularly to avoid jams. I think that probably most SatNav users don’t bother to read the instructions fully, and are only familiar with the basis A-B operations.

  3. Jonathan

    It also begs the question…

    how many people know how to use their devices well enough to generate an alternative route? I’m sure a large element aren’t confident in using the device never mind deviating cross country.

  4. Philip Fry

    > Do you really need a GPS to figure out a simple detour like this…

    One of the reasons I’ve never bothered to obtain one of these gadgets – I prefer to travel with a good paper map – OS obviously if in this country! A slight problem though – not always easy to quickly pinpoint ones position.

    So…..what I would really desire would be to use my iBook loaded with Ordnance Survey mapping, should be then very easy to locate my exact position via a GPS position overlay.

    Simple – it should be……except that OS digital mapping will work on PC’s but not on Mac.’s. Why not Ed? You’re obviously a great fan of Macs – can you not arrange this?

  5. Thierry

    Yes it’s all a bit complicated. To me it’s the same thing when I try to navigate round the aisles of a supermarket. My wife thinks their layout is very logical but in the time it takes me to find the bread I could have baked some myself. For the spatially challenged it must be the same with SatNavs (but still they buy them – well done to the marketeers!).

    Having said that, I’ve also got a lot of sympathy for Philip’s comments re. the quality and reliability of paper maps. I don’t want to carry round a microscope to look at a screen of a mobile GI device, but laptops are too bulky. Wouldn’t it be nice if Satnavs were able to beam their data onto the windscreen in full movie format. And with an augmented reality overlay you could turn a grey motorway into a flower-lined ocean road… now there’s a thought!

  6. Mike Day

    Are you perhaps drawing the wrong conclusion from the lack of traffic on your detour? There is a much more obvious main road alternative (the A30). I am quite surprised that your Satnav chose the route it did via the more minor roads. Could it just be that you have different preferences set to other users?

  7. Steve Erskine

    Hi Ed, I got a Tom-Tom from some freinds of mine and it’s been invaluable especailly getting round the country to places I haven’t been to before. There seems to be two types of user of sat-nav, those who use the fuller functionality and those who seem to use it just for route planning. Perhaps the latter see a sat-nav as simply an electronic map ? Anyway, I’m going to keep using my sat-nav to the full, but I’ll always have the OS map in the car just in case !!!

  8. 'Yer average GIS consumer..

    Quote – “Do you really need a GPS to figure out a simple detour like this…? ”

    Well, call me old fashioned but YES.. I find looking at paper maps whilst driving causes me to ‘become as one’ with with trees, animals of varying sizes, things fabricated from concrete and other road users. (Yeh, I know I’m supposed to look at the map before I set-up but something always get in the way..zzzzzz)

    I use TomTom an Orange SPV phone, the display is about as useful as a chocolate bicycle in the desert but hey, ,I just listen to the TomTom lady..good enough for me,… gets me within 100 metres, that do nicely thank you. I’d probably drive off the edge of cliff if she told me to.. SAD eh….?

  9. Simes

    Detouring is a great use of sat-nav. Take the idea a stage further. As the roads get more and more congested, the ability to vary a route in real time is going to become more and more important. We end up at a stage where your sat-nav is perminently connected, constantly re-generating your route based on real time traffice info, and current road conditions. However, current sat-nav routing info is too immiture to give true optimal routing, as it doesn’t include road restiction information, or weight or height restrictions. Better routing info is needed first, preferably regularly updated – maybe even supplied on demand.

    Final thought though – isn’t the picture I’m painting above really saying that we should be minimising our travelling in the first place? If congestion is a major problem, avoid it by travelling by train or bus, or having a video conference instead if appropriate? If so, then could sat-nav be part of an integrated transport routing system that includes path networks, railways (inc train times and live stautus reports) and bus routes etc?

  10. Ray Donnelly

    Ed, just read your piece and it reminded me that the same thing happened to me on the way back from Birmingham. When I squeezed my way off the M40 and took to the wilds, I expected to be accompanied by lots of others, but I was totally alone.
    By the way, recent reports have suggested that satnav users spend too much time looking at the maps on the small screen. Me, I’m either brave or foolish. I just listen to the dulcet tones of the “instructress”. Works for me!
    Ray

  11. Ed

    Hi Ray,

    Good to hear from you..

    I agree listening to the lady giving instructions works for me – if you can you should trying switching the language to Dutch, don’t understand what she says… but I like the way she says it 🙂

    ed

  12. Mark

    I think people put too much trust in the devices, remember its there to aid you, Not to take over. If you doubt what is says, use your common sense, the tomtom will always re-calculate the route.
    in the meantime; if you have a tomtom You can download free tomtom voices at: GpsIce.co.uk
    you can also download different map colors.
    and splash screens

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