Satnav backlash begins

23 February 2006

Those criticisms of in-car navigation systems Auto IT mentioned last week are now all over the web. This is a result of a survey by Privilege Insurance, which found 19 percent of drivers who used their navigation system admitted to losing concentration on the road, compared to 17 percent who relied on a map.

It’s not an especially convincing argument - asking people for opinions on such matters is an inexact science at the best of times, and the reports do not reveal the specific questions asked.

Also, experiments with eye-tracking equipment have consistently shown that drivers are relatively poorly aware of what they look at, and for how long, when driving. They are probably doubly unaware of exactly what they get up to when they are behind the wheel and lost. Recollections of hazardous events, such as near-collisions, are also typically distorted by the mind.

Another factor is novelty. Most drivers in the sample probably used their first GPS navigation system in the last 12 months or so. As drivers become more used to automated navigation, the amount of attention they devote to it will inevitably decline.

No doubt poorly used, badly sited and ill-designed systems are a hazard. Sadly only actual accident statistics will give a reliable, dispassionate assessment of the real danger.

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