Making Progress

Over in the exciting world of the discussion forum on the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health website, debate rages as to whether satnav promotes road safety, or is a distraction.

To me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer – if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before, you can find a route in an atlas, then struggle to follow it, while looking out for road signs, dodging traffic jams, and trying to concentrate on driving. Or you can have an electronic gadget that finds the route for you, recalculates as you go, and gives you spoken directions so you don’t even have to take your eyes off the road. But it all inspired me to remember the good old days, before satnav was quite as advanced as it is now…

I can’t remember when I bought my first GPS, but I’m guessing it was about 1996: There was no on-screen mapping in those days – you programmed in the Lat/Long co-ords of where you wanted to go, and an arrow appeared on the screen, with a “distance to travel” readout underneath. They were still running “selective availability” then, as well – which meant that the US Army (who owned the satellites, and still do) would deliberately vary the accuracy of the system so you could never be sure how accurate civilian units were. Military units had a thing built in to override the inaccuracy. As a driving aid it was pretty restricted, as you might guess, but if I had a long trip to somewhere new, I used to programme key junctions in as waypoints so at least I knew when turnings were coming up. Even in those days it was better than trying to drive and work off the map :-)

Now we’ve got accurate mapping on our GPS displays, much greater signal accuracy and talking directions. And in the meantime, of course, some clever person invented geocaching ;-)

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