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Driving With GPS

I didn't get lost till I got to be Dr. Gridlock. I prided myself on having a pretty good sense of direction and knowing where I was. But that became far more of a challenge last summer when I began driving around the region with letters from readers on the passenger seat.

I was often going to places I was unfamiliar with so I could experience the same thing the writers had gone through and better understand their complaints. So for Christmas, the Grid Spouse gave me a GPS navigation unit. (My sister, who is much lower tech, gave me a set of jumper cables and a flashlight.)

Now I guess because I deal in dissatisfaction, I'm looking for the downside of navigating by GPS rather than the stack of map books I also keep in the car.

First, the upside: I haven't gotten lost. If I trust the force, it will get me out of any unknown territory I get myself into. Even when it's not following a programmed route, the device is useful for knowing what that next cross street is or whether you actually turned in the direction you intended.

Still, it's not like you're bringing in a 767 on instruments. You've got to be looking around and aware of your surroundings at all times. It's tempting to watch the screen, as in, "Gee, it really works." Worse yet is the temptation to touch the screen and modify the settings while driving. Searching around online, I found references to a study by a British company called Privilege Insurance on the degree of driver distraction the units cause.

I'm a guy who won't turn on the cell phone in the car, so I'm trying to limit the potential distraction of the GPS by taking it only on drives that involve multiple destinations in unfamiliar settings. If I'm going to a single destination or if the territory is relatively familiar, I'll leave the GPS at home.

How does this compare with your experience? Am I missing out on useful aspects of the new technology? And are such gizmos useful for commuters, who tend to take the same routes every day and know them by heart?

By Robert Thomson  |  January 31, 2007; 6:28 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  
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