GPS navigation devices for vehicles are all the rage, but (pursuant to the Law of Unintended Consequences) they’re also causing problems for residential and rural neighborhoods that would like to keep traffic to a minimum. The problem is really that the GPS devices are too efficient. They find the shortest route between Point A and Point B — even if that happens to send the gas-guzzling vehicle hurtling through a residential or rural area where residents would rather not have so much zoomingly efficient traffic.
Update: The Wall Street Journal has a story on this today, 18 March 2008: “Steered Wrong: Drivers Trust GPS Even to a Fault: Blind Faith in Devices Trumps Common Sense; A Road to Nowhere.”
A Dutch research report says the best GPS device is one that smartly routes the driver around residential areas rather than through them. GPS devices that simply pick the shortest routes through residential neighborhoods are labeled “kid killers.” Ouch.
Vinnie Mirchandani adds: “As GPS units mesh with social networks and become more ‘savvy’ about traffic jams and construction sites, expect more drivers to be re-routed even more through residential paths.” He notes this could raise some interesting public policy issues.
Meanwhile, small British villages wish they could be taken off the GPS route maps. As The New York Times recently put it: “Wedmore, like many British villages, has been overrun by trucks following routes set by GPS navigation devices that do not take into account their narrow roads and sharp corners.”
But trucks and tractor-trailers come here all the time, as they do in similarly inappropriate spots across Britain, directed by GPS navigation devices, which fail to appreciate that the shortest route is not always the best route.
“They have no idea where they are,” said Wayne Hahn, a local store owner who watches a daily parade of vehicles come to grief — hitting fences, shearing mirrors from cars and becoming stuck at the bottom of Wedmore’s lone hill. Once, he saw an enormous tractor-trailer speeding by, unaware that in its wake it was dragging a passenger car, complete with distraught passenger.
With villagers at their wits’ end, John Sanderson, chairman of the parish council, has proposed a seemingly simple remedy: getting the route through Wedmore removed from the GPS navigation systems used by large vehicles.
“We’d like them to have appropriate systems that would show some routes weren’t suitable for HGVs,” Sanderson said, using shorthand for heavy goods vehicle.
Some communities have begun putting up signs warning drivers to ignore their GPS devices on rural roads. But signs seem to be less and less effective as people increasingly rely more on GPS systems and less on maps, common sense or their own eyes.