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Get SatNav - Drive Safer

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Recent news reports suggest that the RAC thinks using satellite navigation makes you a safer driver. Quoted on various Web sites, though I can’t find a source at the RAC Web site for this, I read that someone described as ‘an RAC spokesperson’ said “It means you don’t have to constantly look at road names, warning signs and so on. It makes you a lower risk.”

Soon after that story appeared, TomTom came up with some research to prove the point.

The RAC’s claim isn’t just a bit of interesting information. If you get your insurance from the RAC it could save you money too. I got a quick online insurance quote from them and found that having satnav would indeed result in a couple of quid off a £300 plus insurance quote. Try it yourself by getting two quotes identical in all details apart from whether or not you have satnav.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of satnav systems in my time, and I simply can’t accept this premise.

First off, let’s take one, very practical, very micro level example of how using satnav can inhibit safe driving. Roundabouts.

Your satnav system says ‘take the fourth exit’ and you start counting, one….two…..three…..four.

I’ve been on roundabouts with roads coming into them but marked as no entry to those on the roundabout. In my experience some systems have counted these roads in the four, others have not. The only way to be sure is to look at the on-screen map which means taking your eyes from the road. Which might mean you could miss something that the other traffic is up to. Crunch!

Some satnav systems give you the road name you are heading for. You can look for the B1234 and be confident you are taking the exit you are meant to. This seems far safer and it shows that not all satellite navigation systems are the same in quality. The RAC seems to think you can put them all in the same dish in a sort of ‘four legs good two legs bad’ kind of way.

There are plenty of other ways in which satnav systems vary.

Raw data is one. There are only two providers of the raw data, Tele Atlas and Navteq. All the many makers of satnav systems use one or the other. Neither is perfect.

Ever since I started reviewing satellite navigation systems there has been a tendency for them to ask me to drive along a road opposite my home which is an access road for garages and not a proper road.

Local knowledge means I’d never drive down this road. If I didn’t have that local knowledge, it wouldn’t matter that much as the road is very short, and driving along it will bring me out to a ‘real’ road in no time.

But when the M6 toll road appeared it took a while for satnav systems to catch up and show it. This made navigating junctions involving it a little touch-and-go.

How can such a major road not be on a satnav system? Because the mapping data is updated quarterly to satnav providers who then have to spend a little time getting it out into the market.

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