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When SatNavs Attack

My latest Slate column is up, and it considers the emerging legal questions about liability in cases of crashes in which faulty GPS information is implicated.

And yet what happens when the world that is depicted is different from, or has not yet caught up to, the external world, and something goes awry? Where does the fault lie? Drivers, one might argue, should never rely entirely on a map—what family vacation hasn’t had its moments of (nonlitigable) high drama, with parents squabbling over a desert shortcut promised by Rand McNally that was washed out in the spring runoff? But there is a difference between glancing at a map for initial guidance (and then relying on signs or the road itself for information) and the new way of navigating, which is to receive authoritative real-time spoken and visual instructions—at a level of granularity measured in meters or feet—as one actually drives.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 at 2:15 pm and is filed under Traffic Gadgets, Traffic Wonkery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “When SatNavs Attack”

  1. Simstim Says:

    One thing I have noticed with the increased use of Sat-Navs by commercial traffic in the UK is that you quite often encounter lorries/vans on the back-roads who are obviously taking a “short-cut” (and consequently are going too fast for the narrower, twistier roads they’re on) rather than just going to somewhere on those back-roads. Oh, and of course you then get the “HGV stuck on humpback bridge” issue a lot more.

  2. Biks Says:

    I always thought and still think that the legal question is pretty simple and obvious. The nav is an assistance system so all responsibility is still with the driver.

    From my time as railway engineer I know what it means to put legal responsibility on a device as it is for example the case for interlockings. You keep the system as simple as possible because the effort to make really, really sure that the system does exactly what it is supposed to do and nothing else is at least twice the effort of developing it in the first place. I doubt that that’s done for usual cheap car nav systems including all their fancy features.

  3. Andrew Says:

    A lot of people got the idea that the gadget can do a better job of figuring out how to go places than they can. That is exactly what the navigation technology companies want people to think. Now they want to hide behind some fine print disclaimers. I say Good Luck to the people suing.

    Reasonably intelligent people will have about the same incidence of success and error using their wits and a decent map as they will using sat-nav. The former is cheaper, and has the inestimable advantage that the more you do it, the smarter you get.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

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