I got a GPS device from my father as a very late birthday present a little while back. I never plan to go without one again. The GPS is to Google Maps what Google Maps is to Key Maps and Atlases. It can change the way that you think about getting from Point A to Point B. This is particularly true if you live in a new part of the country, as I do.

It used to be that if you wanted to go somewhere, you pretty much had to draw a little map and then take a map with you. For someone like me that forgets everything, it is also crucial to note that it required you remembering to take your little map with you. Or you could try to wing it, but that results in having to pull over all-too-frequently to figure out where you are going. Even if I had a map printed out I would usually have to pull over at least once. Then it was worse for me because I have no internal compass that tells me which way it is that I am actually going. I lived here for a full month before realizing that I drive west once I get off the Interstate to get home rather than south. For previous birthdays I would sometimes ask for a compass for my car, but they seemed relatively unreliable for a device that works mostly on magnets and water.

The GPS provides a compass on steroids even if you’re not asking it to tell you how to get somewhere. You always know what direction you’re going. Even more helpful, you know what streets are about to come up. Whenever I had to make my own maps or print them out from Google or Yahoo I would always have to make note “If you’ve reached X-Street, you’ve gone too far” to prevent myself from driving half-an-hour too far. In addition to having no internal compass, I also have nothing in my mind that informs me common sensically that I’ve gone too far. “Sure, I’ve crossed the state line, but maybe I’m supposed to and the next turn will take me back?”

The directions are even better, if not wholly reliable. There is an Interstate near where we live that makes it rather difficult to cross because there aren’t any access roads (Cascadia in general doesn’t seem to believe in access roads, alas) and a lot of streets end at various points before the Interstate. The GPS has taught me each and every cross-point in various directions that it’s given me. So now even when I’m driving my wife’s car, I have a much better idea of the fastest way to get somewhere.

Alas, GPS systems are not perfect. They haven’t sent me over any cliffs or anything, but they have left me awfully confused once or twice. Sometimes it thinks that two roads connect when they don’t or it will inexplicably tell me to take three rights rather than a left. It thinks that the Walmart in Uniontown is roughly a block over from where it is. It kept telling me to turn right into the parking lot of a Dollar Tree. Unfortunately, miss a couple turns and it assumes that you want to go somewhere else sometimes. Or that you don’t want to go there at all and want to just go home. It also thinks that there is a Walmart in Soundview that isn’t actually there. That’s not the GPS’s fault, though, because Google Maps thinks that it’s there, too.

By and large, though, it provides good directions except whenever Clancy is in the car. When she’s in the car, I’m in “showing off my cool new gadget” mode and it invariably lets me down. Whenever she’s not around, though, and whenever it’s not involving a Walmart, it seems to work pretty well. It’s worth remembering that in the old days Yahoo Maps used to be pretty unreliable. I expect that the GPS will get better with time.

It’s kind of funny how it freaks out whenever you want to take a route other than the route it wants you to take. The unit is good at compensating for what it perceives to be wrong turns. It recalculates your route for you and you keep going. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t get the message. For instance, whenever I go to work by way of Zaulem, there is a never-ending stream of directions telling me to take the next exit and turn my butt around. Around the fourth exit it finally concedes that I’m going by way of the big city against its advice.

It lets me know usually about .6 miles ahead of an exit that I need to be taking it and when the exit arrives it tells me again. There is also a little feature that gives me an arrival time, but it doesn’t compensate for traffic levels at all. Otherwise it’s pretty accurate. Moreso than Google Maps, at any rate. There is also another feature that tells you your average speed (either the speed you go when you’re moving or counting times when you’re stopped at lights and in traffic and whatnot). Somewhat importantly, though, there is a little thing that tells you the fastest speed that you’ve gone since you last reset it. If I’d had this thing during a particular spitstorm in rea-life Wyoming, I may have been able to contest the officer’s assertion that I was going faster than my car was seemingly capable. Or maybe I would have been able to see that he was right and I was wrong. Any time I have a “high speed” significantly faster than the universal speed limit around here, I make sure to reset it. Even so, it’s an interesting little statistic. Even in the absurdly low speed limits of the area, I almost never go more than 10mph over.

When my family was taking a trip through Europe, the tour bus was pulled over in Italy. European tour busses apparently contain some sort of record of maximum speeds and they’re admissible even if the cops can’t prove that you were going that speed on your current road. In other words, if you were going 60mph in one place where that’s the speed limit and they pull you over on a stretch that has a 45mph speed limit, you essentially have no defense. Further, the cops can check your records without any justifiable cause. It’s apparently a racket out there. The tour guide says that you just pay the officer the “fine” and get on your way.

It makes me wonder if the GPS could be used in the same fashion. In the US the officer doesn’t have any right (that I’m aware of) to force me to turn the GPS device to the screen that might incriminate me, but if it’s plainly visible he might be able to use it under certain circumstances. It might be up to me to demonstrate that there were enough miles on it that I could have been going the speed limit somewhere else, but since I don’t think I’ve seen a single speed limit over 60mph in the entire area and never anything above 65, and since I’m not close to any state or province I’m aware of that has the sorts of high speed limits that Deseret and Estacado do, that could be tough. I wonder how admissible my GPS would be in my defense. I’d somehow need to be able to have a record of what was on the GPS right that minute and be able to demonstrate to the courts that I hadn’t tampered with it. That’d be a pretty tall order.

I expect that the GPS companies would vigorously oppose the GPS being used in courts. Estacado was planning for a little while to use the Estag, the little thing you put on your dashboard so you don’t have to stop at tolls, to ticket people. They already use those things for signs that tell you the expected time between certain landmarks so the technology is there. However, the Estag people freaked out because they rightly believed that if the Estag invited tickets nobody would use it. The idea was quashed.

Category: Road

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2 Responses to I Go Where Gippers Tells Me To Go

  1. Peter says:

    The incident in Bedford Hill, New York that’s in your “over any cliffs” link smells like last week’s fish. I’m quite familiar with the area in question as I took commuter trains on that line for a few years. To have turned onto the railroad tracks from the Saw Mill Parkway, as the driver claimed the GPS misled him into doing, he would have had to make an almost absurdly abrupt turn while slowing for at least 60 mph to no more than 10 mph in no more than 100 feet. If he’d used even the slightest iota of common sense he would have realized that the railroad tracks were not where he was supposed to turn.

    Here is a picture of the scene showing the very close proximity of the tracks to the Parkway. Clearly, we’re talking about extreme carelessness, and unreasonable reliance on the GPS.

  2. trumwill says:

    Isn’t half the point of a GPS so that you can dispense with the whole “common sense” bother?

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