Satnav Fun and Games

Today we spun over to Harwich to drop Keith and Marlene at the port where they were due to embark on Jewel of the Seas for their cruise through the Baltic Sea to Russia and back. There are times when I feel like the only person left on the planet that does not possess a satellite navigation device so our neighbour, Paul, had loaned us his Garmin unit with which to have a play. Not wishing to travel round the M25 ‘cos of horrendous road works, we set the unit to “shortest route” (the only alternative to “fastest route”, i.e. M25 – yeah, right) and set off.

“Play” proved to be accurate. The cross-country route was fun. We soon became curious as to why we were being warned of certain speed limits but not of others, especially as one of said “others” had a mobile speed camera lurking within it. These “others” were old, long-standing 30s and 40s so it certainly wasn’t a case of the unit not having been updated with recently changed information, they just didn’t seem to be there. By the time we’d covered a mere 30 miles or so we’d been through at least 6 speed limits with no technological notification, quite enough for any testosterone-rich Subaru Impreza WRX driver to have lost his license. [Ed: Hey, maybe that’s no bad thing!] Not that speed limits should be a satnav’s primary function but one clearly wouldn’t want to rely on one of these things for speed limit notification. I, of course, do not drive a Subaru Impreza WRX and I do look for road signs. 😉

Once beyond Stansted, around which traffic seemed strangely light, we ran into the other automatic navigation issue which I’ve long suspected: “shortest route” is useless. At least, for cars it’s utterly pointless; it may be OK for bicycles and pedestrians. “Shortest route” completely ignores sensible, helpful bypasses and attempts to slam you straight through the very centre of large towns. After all, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and that is what you asked for, isn’t it? Not good. What is really needed for cars is a “shortest sensible route” option. Unlike most of Joe Public, not having switched off our brains, we invoked the human-override option and took over. “Recalculating!” Garmin adjusted after getting only slightly pissy.

On our return journey from Shotley, we thought we’d try “fastest route”. We were routed initially to the A14, our normal, chosen-by-a-rational-human route.  After one measly junction, however, Garmin wanted us to turn south on the A12. Clearly, it was trying to get us on the disastrous northern section of the M25. We refused and kept on the A14. “Recalculating!” It’s quite amazing how intently Garmin wants you to get on motorways, particularly the M25. “Exit left and make a U-turn”. Normally, of course, I’m quite prepared to admit that this strategy works but the current plethora of road works definitely overrides normality. Again we ignored the advice. “Exit left and make a U-turn.” For two or three further junctions Garmin kept trying to make us exit, U-turn and retrace our steps back to the A12/M25 option. we continued to ignore it and eventually it did decide to head towards Bury St. Edmunds. “Recalculating! Continue for 41 miles.”

I don’t ever remember having as much fun in a car with my clothes still on. Garmin proved most entertaining and much better than any modern comedy show for raising smiles. I suspect that satnavs are quite handy for finding addresses in towns. I also suspect they’d be quite helpful when driving solo, map reading not being a legal option. They are easily trumped, however, when the navigator’s seat is occupied by someone with a decent map and at least half a brain. This configuration enables the pilot to keep an eye out for those pesky speed limit signs that the satnav keeps missing.

Guilty as charged, though they could be worth it for the pure entertainment value. I may get one anyway. 🙂

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