14 million people – half the driving population of the UK – now use sat nav devices but the effects on driving habits appear far more negative than was previously suspected; they are implicated in 300,000 accidents a year in Britain. According to some estimates, 1.5 million drivers have driven badly because of sat-nav distractions, either by veering across lanes or making illegal manoeuvres. 1 in 50 drivers say sat-nav was the direct cause of an accident or near accident, and 1 in 3 say that the device has left them ‘confused’.
This ‘confusion’ has led to a string of disasters in recent years. Four actors from a touring theatre company had to be rescued from the roof of their pink Mercedes van after their sat-nav directed them through a flooded ford in Dorset. In another incident, a BMW was left dangling, Italian Job-style, over a 100-ft cliff in Todmorden. In 2008, a delivery van collided with an express train carrying 45 passengers because a sat-nav had ‘misguided’ it on to the Newcastle-Carlisle railway line.
Perhaps the most extreme case is that of the Syrian lorry driver transporting luxury cars from Turkey to Gibraltar who was sent on a 1,600-mile detour to Skegness. Necdet Bakimci, who was caught trying to steer his 32-tonne lorry down a narrow lane towards the North Sea, explained in broken English that he was looking for Coral Road on Gibraltar. It is thought that the confusion arose because his device had the Rock of Gibraltar listed as a UK territory and so had directed him towards the mainland.
In research commissioned by Direct Line Insurance, 79% of drivers reported having regular ‘conversations’ with their sat nav and 56% had, at some point, yelled at the device.
The consensus is that driver distraction contributes to about a quarter of all accidents, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reckons that using a handheld mobile increases your risk of an accident by a factor of four. But Swedish research concluded that ‘reading a satellite navigation system while driving is as potentially dangerous as using a mobile phone at the wheel’.
The statistics aren’t helpful here, largely because the UK system for collecting information on road accidents didn’t begin to include any information on the causes of accidents until 2005. Also many drivers at accident scenes won’t admit to using hand-held mobile phones, particularly since their use in cars was banned in the UK in 2003.
Australian research using in-car cameras suggests that 15% of our driving time is taken up with activities other than driving: we are eating, changing CDs, putting on make-up, reading newspapers, texting, shouting at the kids or trying to recover the tube of Polos that has rolled under the passenger seat. All of them are potentially fatal. Even opening a packet of crisps is estimated to reduce reaction time by nearly a third.
How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.
Geostationary satellites meant the 1964 Olympics were the first TV programme to cross the Pacific Ocean.
Italy was the third country (after the US and USSR) to launch a satellite. The 'San Marco' was sent into space in 1964.