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Computer says go: A common sense approach to sat navs

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According to a recent AA survey, more than half of AA members with satellite navigation systems have said it’s the “best device they’ve ever had in their car.” However, many admit that sat navs can sometimes distract them in their driving and even more have had a sat nav take them to a place they didn’t want to go.

In a world where we are so reliant on technology, I have recently become concerned about how blindly we are following sat nav instructions and how much risk we put ourselves at through the use of them.

The distracting effect of technology is well documented when it comes to mobile phones; however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that people who use sat navs could be at greater risk of facing a personal injury claim as a result of a car accident.

While I appreciate that a sat nav can offer a lot of help to a driver, I am keen to stress the potential distraction they can cause. This danger is epitomised in the recent tragic death of Lauren Smee, who was an inexperienced driver using a sat nav as support. Her sat nav advised her to take the first left turn but she failed to notice that this road was a slip road onto a dual carriage way which resulted in her colliding head on with a car travelling in the correct direction.

Sat navs can easily offer help to a young or inexperienced driver, however, when a driver is inexperienced they have much more to think about other than where to go. This tragic case has led to Lauren Smee’s mother calling for driving lessons to have compulsory sat nav training in them in order to prevent people blindly following potentially dangerous instructions.

A series of experiments have been carried out by researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London and Lancaster University which show that sat nav systems can significantly affect a driver’s concentration. The experiments show that complex sat nav instructions can cause drivers to drive faster as well as making them less aware of pedestrians crossing and road signs. Dr Polly Dalton from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway said: "Our findings show that even auditorily-presented information alone can interfere with the task of driving. Studies of in-car mobile phone use have found similar results."

Regardless your age or experience, it is important to understand the limitations of a sat nav system so that is useful and not dangerous. You can’t blame a sat nav if you commit an offence or have an accident, you are still in control of the car and the sat nav you are putting so much faith in, isn’t.

People have been directed into rivers, ditches, and railways because of a sat nav’s wrong directions; it may seem obvious, but trust your eyes, not the sat nav. Above all, ensure that it’s not obscuring your view and that you keep your eyes on the road.

Lastly and most importantly please don’t try to programme the sat nav while you are driving. Effectively I’m urging people to take a common sense approach to using a sat nav, it may just save your life if you think twice when your sat nav says ‘go’.

By personal injury expert, Jemma Gaskell