Driven to distraction

Here be dragonsShould I give in and get a Satellite Navigation system for my car? I think they are over-priced, not particularly exciting, and shouldn’t be necessary in a well ordered universe. And I don’t trust a Sat Nav system to choose a safe route from A to B: far too many grossly inappropriate lorries have got stuck in the lane for me to think that Sat Nav’s safe.

On the other hand, is it unreasonable of me to expect maps offered by organisations to show roads clearly, using standard mapping conventions? Or to expect written directions to be complete and presuppose no local knowledge? It shouldn’t be unreasonable of me, but I have a horrible feeling it might be.

I spent a lot of time in the 1990s driving round industrial estates trying to find whichever company I was visiting at the time. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t easy. (I remember Abingdon as being particularly time consuming for some reason). So I know that there never was a golden age. I have clocked up between 20,000 and 30,000 miles every year for each of the last 15 or 20 years, many of those miles on roads I didn’t know. I can read maps. I can follow directions. Well…. I used to be able to read maps and follow directions, but now I struggle with both.

Am I getting older and less capable? Is traffic moving faster and more scarily? Or are road signs less reliable, corporate maps less accurate and directions less well written? Or is it the fault of the internet, which provides us with ludicrously detailed and incredibly inaccurate directions and mapping? I finally realised that it was the internet, and not me, when I confirmed that the road numbers and directions I had for crossing Bristol from the M32 to Clifton stipulated junctions and road numbers that did not in fact exist in this universe. Perhaps in Lara’s, but not here.

So, given the shittiness of the alternatives, is it foolishly ludditte of me not to want to spend my next spare couple of hundred quid on Sat Nav?

Yesterday I tried to find a hotel between Glasgow and Edinburgh in the dark, using the map I’d printed off their website. I drove down a road that wasn’t marked on the map, counting roundabouts that didn’t exist on that road or any other, with no idea whether my destination was 500 yards away or 5 miles. Their map had no scale on it. Some genius had used circles to denote interchanges with slip-roads rather than roundabouts. Oh, and there was a road missing at one of the few actual roundabouts. The fact that the writing was too small too read was a minor problem compared with the mapping inaccuracies. To her credit, the girl on the desk wrote all my comments down and handed them in to the manager’s office. But. But…

Then today I spent two hours during rush-hour in Newcastle with irritable geordies up my arse, looking for a building for which I’d been given no street address, to be reached on foot after parking in a car-park which was not mentioned in the directions, on a road called Claremont Road on the map and Claremont Place on the street itself. I gave up in the end and decided I deserved better, so I then spent 45 minutes looking for the A1(M) (crossing the Tyne three times in the process) and drove home.

Am I whining? Am I being unfair? Am I expecting too much? If I buy a satellite navigation system will it cure my Manchester-induced tourettes?

10 responses to “Driven to distraction

  1. Well, it’s not a clearcut decision, but on balance, I’m glad I made the decision to get one.
    The cons:
    1) They are likely to use the same data sources as Internet maps – so if the latter are inaccurate, your satnav is going to lie through its teeth as well.
    2) They can take some, ah, interesting decisions about the route that would cause locals who know the area to think you are insane.
    The pros:
    1) I much prefer driving listening to a voice guiding me, rather than glancing down at a map just as a moped rider decides to turn out in front of the car.
    2) The latest devices can receive updates to map data via your PC or Mac, so corrections can be made. It won’t remove all instances of lying, but it helps.
    3) For a subscription fee, some devices will take account of real-time traffic conditions to avoid jams. Being a skinflint, I’ve not tried this.
    4) For a subscription fee, some devices will warn you about things like speed cameras. Not being a prat like Jeremy Clarkson, I’ve not bothered with this.

  2. I love mine. When it works, which is most of the time, it is nothing short of technomancy. When it doesn’t, when it fails, it usually does so in a comedy way which gives me something to rant humourously about to little effect.

    The thing to remember is this: just because it says “go THAT way”, doesn’t mean you have to obey. And when you don’t, it doesn’t get sniffy, it calculates a new route taking into account your recalcitrance. This means that with a tiny bit of common sense (e.g. not turning into streets labelled “no entry”), it can’t fail. It may not get you there by the shortest or fastest route, and it may attempt to get you to drive up a near vertical cart track that it is convinced is a dual carriageway, but… and this is the biggie… it WILL get you to where you want to be, really quite sooner after you wanted to be there AT WORST.

    I’d just like, completely off topic, to recommend, QUICKLY, that you LISTEN AGAIN to this morning’s Today programme, on which Jacqui “I’m scared of walking round London” Smith, the Home Secretary, caused Carolyn Quinn (and me) to laugh out loud during her interview. Sequin said, in relation to terrorism legislation, “Aren’t you legislating for hypothetical situations?” Smith wittered on about needing to have frameworks in place so the police could apply to a judge, blah, blah, blah, if they needed to. Sequin came back with “If that’s not a hypothetical situation, what is?”.

    Smith’s instant response is destined to become a classic: “It WON’T be a hypothetical situation, IF AND WHEN it happens.”

    Carolyn Quimn did the only thing you could do in that situation, and actually laughed in her face. Priceless.

  3. What you need is a satnav crossed with an sort of counsellor who works out your route based on how stressed you’re feeling. They haven’t invented it yet, but I’m sure it’s on the way.

  4. I like my satnav – now that I’ve worked out how to interpret what it’s saying and showing me.

    It does occasionally take me to places via some interesting routes – like the time I came to visit you.

    I must plug mine into the computer for an update – then perhaps it’ll stop directing me into industrial estates that didn’t used to be there.

  5. I like my Google maps and Multimap any my A to Z. I too do a lot of driving each year, seeing as most of my work is in the community, but find forcing myself to navigate gives me better direction sense and orientation and ultimately familiarity.

    So far I’ve eschewed that high tech sat nav malarky, but may need to succumb one day . . .

  6. I would go with the Sat Nav, although it does deprive you of your natural homing instincts. You no longer learn to look around you and remember landmarks, but instead rely completely on the computerized voice and probably wouldn’t be able to find the place the second time without it. It makes you landscape resilient. In other words, you become kind of a dummy. It is nice to have a voice to talk back to, however, and swear at when the instructions aren’t clear. She never loses her patience and always has that super kind tone of voice no matter what goes wrong. It’s a win-win situation.

  7. I hate mine. Shortest route takes you down ridiculous roads and doesn’t understand one way systems. Fastest route works on the speed limits of the road, so will ignore the speedy dual carriage way at 60mph for the carpark otherwise known as the motorway. It also uses road names for roads which only have A or B numbers when you see the signage at the juntion you are trying to navigate.

    I find a combination of looking at the map and picking out the route I want to get me into the right general area (thus ignoring the sat nav most of the way. She says *recalculating* in a rather testy manner) and letting the satnav find the right street once I’ve reached the local area, works ok.

  8. So the advice is, “get one”.

    Oh well.

    Useful to have such clearly explained pros, though Kelli, you articulate my fears.

    Thanks all.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.


  9. My family were comparing navigatory perculiarities the other day.

    My brother, who uses SatNav has become landscape relilliant, as Irene splendidly calls it, to the Nth degree, even to the point of barely registering road signs. I await the day he confidently, calmly and casually chatting to his bewildered pasanger (me) he drives off a cliff because the machine tells him to.

    My parents and I spend most of our journeys being signpost dependent, peering desperately out of the windscreen for the next white or green sign, panicedly going round the roundabout again if we didn’t quite catch what it said the first time and shreiking if we miss it altogether.

    My Grandad, on the other hand, who learnt his navigational skills driving a tank round Wales when all the signage had been taken down to better confuse the German invaders, seemed to have an encyclopedic knowldege of the roads themselves. He was always, apparently, insisitng that people turn down obscure farm tracks because he remembered it being a short cut back in 1944. Odd thing was, he was usually right.

  10. That is absolutely fascinating Sol. So much I told a friend about your grandfather yesterday just to SHOW them. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.


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