Pack for Safety, even with GPS

Often when new technology arrives on the scene to improve our lives, there is also a time of adjustment, when the unforeseen dangers and interferences of these new devices become apparent.

Examples of this learning curve take the form of everything from urban legends about people who put their unfortunate pets in the microwave, to the much documented phenomena of cell phones impairing drivers by distracting them - both with conversation, and more recently and increasingly dangerously, with text messaging.

But GPS units, those personal Global Positioning Systems that have become increasingly common on the road, seem like an unlikely contender as a road danger. At least, they may seem that way at first blush. The reality is that, like many other modern conveniences in their adjustment period, they present some very real dangers.

Like anything which demands your attention while driving, GPS units can distract motorists from paying attention to what they are doing: driving. Spending too much time fussing with, querying, and paying attention to the small navigation screen may not be as distracting as texting while driving, but it still divides a driver's attention in yet another direction. Driving, to begin with, is less one act than it is a suite of skills which drivers must employ more or less simultaneously. The single task of making an unprotected left turn is in reality multitasking. Adding another voice to the mix - that of the GPS telling you to make the turn now - can have a detrimental effect on some drivers in some instances.

Stories about this sort of situation have been appearing on and off in the media for a few years now.

There is, however, another danger involved with GPS units, as a Nevada couple learned when they spent Christmas day stranded in the snow in a National Forest as a result of faithfully following the directions of their GPS.

Their GPS had not failed. It gave them accurate directions, but it failed to take into account the details which automated programs are not at this time fully equipped to respond to. The GPS did include dangerous winter driving conditions in its directions. It did not know the capabilities of the car the couple was driving. It could not account for any number of factors that a human might consider when entering dangerous driving conditions such as whether or not they would be able to get a cellular signal if they become stranded, if there might be passersby who could lend help or if it's possible that they will not see another car for days, and perhaps most importantly, just what the conditions of the road are.

This is not meant as advice against using GPS. One of the surest ways to avoid an automobile accident is not to be on the road, and not getting lost is definitely a way to reduce drive time. However, it is a reminder not to trust your GPS too implicitly.

And it is a reminder to, like the couple in this story, be prepared for winter's dangers and pack a well stocked emergency safety kit. The Nevada couple’s misadventure trapped them in the snow for three days before rescue, and their preparedness may have saved their lives.