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If you’ve done much driving in the UK you’ll recognise the scene I’m about to describe. Friday night rush hour on the M25, four lanes of gridlocked traffic and no end to the queue in sight.
In truth the picture plays out on nearly every major British road at the same time every week. But sat in the heat of a July evening, crawling along Europe’s busiest road, my sat nav bleaped into life and suggested their just might be another way. An alternative route, which tantalisingly could let me skip past the thousands of other motorists.
Should we stick or twist? We knew what lay ahead on the M25, but was the alternative any better?
We decided to twist and took the next exit, the sat nav taking us on an alternative route that would avoid the London orbital.
I travel a lot by car and knew that the alternatives weren’t that good. But I dared to believe and placed the fate of our journey in the hands of a box of microchips.
You don’t have to be psychic to know where this story is going though. Our detour didn’t work out and we re-joined the M25 at the next junction, merging onto the road alongside a van we recognised. So after expending fuel and energy on our alternative route we had arrived back at exactly the same point as we left the motorway. Pretty frustrating all in all.
The sat nav was retired at this point and I decided to take the M40, a move I’m sure shaved quite a bit of time from our journey. I trusted my instincts and knowledge over the sat nav and the decision paid off.
So why do we place so much faith in satellite navigation when we know that it will often get things wrong? I have a theory that some might find uncomfortable; we are afraid to make decisions and to relieve our uncertainty we slavishly follow a gadget that will make them for us.
We’ve all seen drivers hunched over their sat navs, staring so intently at the little coloured screen on their dash that they often drive far more slowly and with less care than the road demands. So are these little black boxes to blame for the indecision of drivers? It’s hard to say.
I’ve been navigated successfully to a number of places that I would never have been able to find on my own. I’m often amazed by the ability of a sat nav to direct me to far flung corners of the country. In that respect there’s no doubting its great technology, but maybe we’re all a little guilty of placing too much faith in it and not making decisions on our own.