The dangers of Satnav – could the new TomTom GO 930 with IQ Routes be the answer?

A week or so ago I read the PC Pro review of the new TomTom GO 930 satnav with IQ Routes™ technology (is there a TomTom equivalent of the annoying Intel sound that has to be played every time that phrase is read out?). If satnavs are your thing then it looks an impressive piece of kit.

One particular paragraph of the review stopped me in my tracks and made me think about the general problems people have had with satnavs since their introduction – namely satnavs sending drivers down unsuitable roads:

According to PC Pro, “The most significant upgrade to the new range is TomTom’s new route-finding ability – dubbed IQ Routes. What this means is that the 930T, along with the rest of the new “x30” range, calculates routes not using the speed limit data alone, but also by taking into account the average speed of real-world traffic on those roads.”

Just pause for a moment to let that sink in – not the fact that IQ Routes™ (cue the jingle again) calculates routes based on the average time taken to travel those routes but that TomToms in the past have calculated the fastest route based on the speed limit of the road.

Even my first copy of Autoroute had options to set different driving speeds for different types of roads – rural A roads, urban B roads, urban motorways etc. It beggars belief that up to now TomTom have been basing their route calculations on speed limits.

Think about it – is it generally possible to make better time on an unclassified road than on, say, a speed-restricted section of the A1? If TomTom has been calculating routes using speed limits then it’s quite possible that it would direct you onto an unclassified country road with a (theoretical but unachievable)60mph speed limit rather than a fast A road which is restricted to 40mph for safety’s sake. The fact that you may be able to only do 30mph on the minor road is apparently irrelevant to the TomTom.

It certainly seems to explain some of the stories of satnavs directing people down totally unsuitable roads when there’s a perfectly good major road available as an alternative and may also explain some of the bizarre routes (Leicester to Croydon via the Edgeware Road anyone?) often taken by inexperienced drivers relying on satnav instructions.

With this in mind I was saddened to read this story about a young woman who died last week after a delay in getting her to hospital, caused by a faulty satnav.

The first lines of the story reminded me of my thoughts about the older TomToms’ route calculations:

“A young woman died after the ambulance taking her to hospital got lost on the way because of a faulty sat nav unit.

The vehicle carrying Kay Gadsby, 21, was directed along a narrow country lane instead of a quicker main road.”

The story goes on to explain that the satnav actually ‘packed up completely’ after that, and that the delay in getting Kay Gadsby to hospital may not have caused her death.

This particular satnav may not have been using this obviously flawed ‘speed limit’ routing method – it may just have been faulty – but the tragic story does show the fallibility of satnavs and the dangers of simply following directions from a satnav without actually thinking about the route that it’s sending you on.

IQ Routes™ is available on the TomTom GO 730, the TomTom Go 930 and on the ‘Traffic’ version of both units which take current traffic conditions into account when calculating your route and can adjust the route to avoid hold-ups.

Posted under Courier Basics, SatNav

Posted by Alec at 4:25 pm, July 14, 2008

1 Comment so far

  1. Terry added on  July 15th, 2008 at 18:52

    I don’t think that this problem is anywhere near as serious as you’re making out. Sure, people go the wrong way when following a Sat Nav but they go the wrong way when following a map or being given directions so what’s the difference?

    the story you mention is very sad but it says that its a faulty unit that packed up altogether a few minutes later so it could be nothing really to do with bad Sat Nav directions but just bad maintenance or human error.

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