In-car GPS makes you more likely to drive poorly

Satellite navigation devices, the ubiquitous GPS interfaces that many have in their cars, are, it seems, the cause for more than their fair share of accidents and risky driving practices in the UK.

With half of the driving population in the UK having access to one of these devices in their vehicles it shows a significant market penetration for quite a young technology. While the ratio of accidents to the number of devices in use is quite low, and there is no indication of the timeframe that those accidents took place over, it is approximately twice the number of accidents in the UK that lead to personal injury in 2007 (300,000 sat nav accidents versus 182,115 accidents causing injury). It does suggest that drivers with sat nav devices are more likely to find themselves in a minor accident or carry out risky driving practices (1.5 million saying they engaged in sudden manoeuvring, and 5 million having gone against the flow of traffic). When this is considered against a driving population of 14 million with these devices, it makes for a scary statistic - having sat nav devices makes you more likely to drive poorly.

GPS devices fall into the same category as any other in-vehicle distraction, such as kids, mobile phones, passengers, or the radio. It might also be the reason why a number of road safety campaigns have focussed on 'Good Drivers Just Drive' as their key message.

The fact that the survey was sponsored by an insurance company almost guarantees that the figures returned will show sat nav devices in a poor light. Whether the use of sat nav devices has contributed to the overall decline in road fatalities and serious injuries as shown in the Department for Transport link is not known, but it would make for an interesting study and would provide a valuable comparison point.

Does it reduce the risk for serious accidents and injuries by allowing drivers to pre-plan their trips, take alternate routes with lighter traffic loads, or just focus on driving and following the instructions of the GPS (when it gets it right), noting the increased level of risky behaviour reflected in the insurance company's survey?

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Carl Jongsma

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