Research Shows that Satellite Navigation Systems can be a Distraction for Motorists

Sat-nav systems have been known to occasionally get drivers in a tight spot by sending them the wrong way and causing accidents that require them to claim on their motor insurance policy, but now a new study has also found that the navigational aids can detract from a motorist’s driving skills.

The performance of drivers was affected when they listened to sat-nav spoken directions in an experiment carried out by Lancaster University and Royal Holloway, University of London. The drivers were all given tasks by a computer that copied the spoken instructions given by a sat-nav system. The results showed that when drivers are following more complicated instructions they are more likely to drive a little bit faster, have different steering actions and are much less likely to notice a pedestrian who unexpectedly steps out in front of the car.

Dr Polly Dalton, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, said “What is interesting is that people were able to follow one simple instruction without any significant impact on their driving. But as soon as they had to remember a compound instruction, consisting of two sequential directions, we began to notice a difference in their driving ability. A lot of effort has gone into designing visually-friendly sat-nav devices but our research highlights the importance of the way in which the auditory instructions are given.”

Anyone who has been sent down winding country lanes wildly off course or had the phrase “recalculating” said to them will confirm that sat-navs can be a nightmare. Their temporary blips and habit of sending the driver on the most illogical route possible can drive even the most level headed drivers to despair. A poll taken in April found that 6 out of 10 drivers have actually shouted, sworn or even hit their sat-nav system after it sent them completely the wrong way. The results of this latest research will hopefully have major implications for the way the systems will be designed in the future. With the increasing reliance on technology for navigation, it is vital that technology is designed to help rather than detract drivers.

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