Saturday, 12 February 2011

Driven to Distraction

A sad piece from the news last week - a little girl died in an RTA in Bolton after the driver (her father) followed incorrect directions from his sat nav. Now I'll skip gently round this one, because whilst it serves to highlight a point I wish to make, a little sensitivity is probably the order of the day. The driver, a learner, took an illegal right turn when prompted to do so by his sat nav system. He collided with an oncoming car to fatal ends. The illegality of such a right turn was signposted, but neither the driver nor his wife saw the signs.

There are a couple of points here. The first: an extract from the article concerned states "a recent survey found they [sat navs] had been blamed for causing around 300,000 people to crash in Britain." No they didn't. Drivers cause accidents in the vast majority of cases. Duff information from a sat nav doesn't help, but they don't make the decisions. If the chap in the street I ask for directions tells me to drive into a brick wall, down the side of a ravine or along the London to Brighton high speed line, I will probably thank him and then work it out myself (after out of sight so he doesn't know I'm ignoring him - I don't want to be rude, I'm English). You may be wondering why I would ever ask directions, being a man and all. Surely I either have a cast iron sense of direction or a cast iron stubbornness, either of which makes this direction-asking episode a figment of my imagination? I have a mix of the two. And a map. And a sat nav, but like all of us could be a much better driver.

The point is, you can't go around believing everything you are told, and the advice of sat navs is no exception to the rule. Some are better than others. Some are out of date. The same is true of maps, of the advice of locals and of the navigational directions coming from the array of back-seat drivers in your car. Ultimately though, you drive the car. You are operating a very heavy, very fast, very dangerous machine. So, have your maps and advice and up-to-date sat navs, but ultimately, look out of the window at the signs.

The second point is somewhat linked to this first, but is very specific to the case in question. Why was a learner driver using a sat nav? Now many if not most cars seem to have them these days, but having the voice of John Cleese (well he's got to pay for his divorce settlement somehow) telling you where to go does not absolve you of the responsibility for operating your vehicle safely and within the law. I would suggest basic navigation is a pretty important part of learning to drive, as is keeping your eyes out of the car not glued to a mini tv. By all means get sat nav once you've learned to drive, but if you don't teach a new driver the underlying skills, what chance have they of negotiating the roads safely if technology fails? Which it does. Regularly. Good to see, therefore, the Government introducing navigation into driving tests, but you probably still shouldn't use them whilst learning.

So that's it really. A defence of sat navs. They're pretty good. Like maps. But they don't drive the car. The sooner we stop blaming inanimate objects for the flaws of humans, we might get back to the basics of driving and do something positive for road safety. A sad lesson learned the very hardest way, but one that someone might at least learn something from.

1 comment:

  1. More importantly, why was a learner driving with a child in the car?