In today’s technologically advanced world, there are more exciting destinations to travel to than ever. The advent of portable and built-in GPS systems have made getting to those destinations easier and more economical than ever. You may have bought a new GPS system for your car (or are considering one), and now you’re wondering what could potentially go wrong while using it. As a tech savvy individual, I’ve encountered and learned to avoid several situations in which one may become confused, led costfully astray, or even been endangered by these enabling gadgets.
First and foremost, let me say that when used properly, GPS or navigation is an invariably valuable tool. I personally have a Navigon 7100 in my Volvo S80, and it has never given me any major problems. This brings us to the purchasing dilemma. The first potential mistake made concerning GPS systems is deciding which one works best for the individual. If you’re considering it as a stock option for your new car, take into account the price. Most stock new car navigation systems cost around $2,000, and that’s only for the system and a DVD disc containing the map information, usually only current as of the year the car was purchased. In a few years, you’re going to have to go back to the dealer to buy a new DVD disc with updated maps and POIs (Points of Interest). These usually run between $40 and $80 dollars.
Some vehicle manufacturers even make you pay yearly dues for usage of the Navigation system. Funny, considering the GPS satellites in orbit are government-funded and can just as easily and effectively be accessed by a handheld GPS system for free. These handheld GPS systems (Navigon, Garmin, Tomtom, etc) usually employ a one time purchase cost between $200 and $700 dollars and sometimes also include free traffic information received from local FM radio stations. I found that a Navigon portable GPS was far more economical for my needs; I even use it when I bike to a new place in my college town at UC Davis here in California. I just set the destination, put an earbud in my ear and plug the other end into the headphone jack, put the GPS in my backpack, and listen to the guidance. At Navigon.com, you can create a user account and plug the GPS into your computer via USB to update it with the latest firmware and maps whenever there’s a new release. Works for me! Again, it depends on the individual. If the economy’s hurting you, better go with the portable. It’s way cheaper and cost effective, but if you want a streamlined and integrated nterface with your car, better go with a stock or compatible aftermarket system. Be sure to do your homework!
Perhaps the most obvious mistake of all is not paying attention to road signs, warnings, or obstructions which you may encounter while following the navigation’s guidance. I constantly see stories in the news regarding blunders which occurred while drivers were following their GPS systems. One man drove into a pile of sand while meticulously following every word and visual prompt on his navigation. A woman drove onto (and as a result, eventually into) a frozen lake while following hers. Yet another person followed his GPS system along a bridge in Europe which was being repaired, and almost drove into a river. Just because something else is doing the navigation doesn’t mean that the driver should be lax and pay less attention. If your navigation is resolutely telling you that you need to cross a bridge that signs have warned you not to cross, simply use the detour function, select the road the bridge is on, and watch your route change for the better (and safer). That, or just continue driving, and the GPS will automatically reroute. However, if it tells you to make a U-turn and head back, use the detour function. Always be aware of your surroundings!
Speaking of U-turns, that’s a whole other can of worms. Most GPS systems are loathe to suggest U-turns, as these maneuvers can be time consuming, dangerous, impossible on a freeway, or (my least favorite) perfect game for a hiding cop to give you a ticket. If you find your GPS telling you to “please make a legal U-turn,” do just as it says. To avoid a ticket, find a spot that’s not in a business district and not labeled with the no U-turn sign, and safely complete your turn. Always remember that a U-turn will usually only be suggested if no other alternative is available.
On the subject of routing, don’t be afraid to second guess your navigation. If you’re in your home area and you know a better way to get to the freeway, don’t feel like your navigation will hate you for acting contrary to its opinion. Navigation is, after all, a computer- and computers are only as artificially intelligent as the minds which build them, and usually not even nearly as smart. If you’re in an unknown area and you take a wrong turn, never fear. GPS reroutes within seconds!
Last but not least, it is imperative that you enter the address of your destination as accurately as possible. This means the street name must be spelled right, especially the suffix (st., ave., blvd., rd., etc). The number is equally as important, too. My Navigon adds another destination entry screen after these two fields have been filled, which shows what city and zip code the destination is in. Usually there are two to choose from. For instance, if I entered an address in Chatsworth, CA, the screen would allow me to choose between “Chatsworth, CA” and “Los Angeles, CA” because Chatsworth is a part of Los Angeles, CA. Whatever the case may be, always ensure that the street name, number, city and state are correct! If not, you’re in for a long costly drive. Especially if you’re unfamiliar with your destination and don’t discover the error until a few hours later. Speaking of California, be aware that mounting a portable GPS on your windshield with the usually included suction cup mount is illegal in California (for whatever reason) and may get you a ticket.
If you follow these guidelines, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to safely and economically get the best results from your GPS system. Considering the benefits, the easily avoidable mistakes should not sway you against purchasing a GPS system. Not only does GPS help you navigate unfamiliar terrain, it gives you a countdown in terms of distance and time til you reach your destination. The countdown is incredibly buoying for my neverending drives to and from Davis (400 miles from my home here in LA) and is a source of some slight form of entertainment along the uneventful ride. I love my GPS!
Happy navigating (or shopping) and drive safely!