Fall On the Road

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Navigate vehicles safely with GPS

Upon their arrival on the automotive marketplace, global positioning systems, or GPS, quickly became a phenomenon. Even today, years after that introduction, GPS devices are still relied on by millions of people to help them navigate the country's roadways. Many others rely on the GPS of their mobile phones, employing such capabilities in concert with digital maps while driving.

Although they can help a person with directions or make it easier to find the nearest fuel station or rest stop, GPS systems are not foolproof. Plus, when used improperly, they may increase the risk for accidents by drawing drivers' attention away from the road.

According to Corvallis Micromorphologic, Inc., GPS work with a group of satellites that communicate with GPS devices to pinpoint a car's location. They can do so up to 164 to 328 feet of your location. Afterwards, your position on the planet is overlaid with a digital map and navigation information stored within the GPS receiver. The GPS can then provide directions and suggest routes based on certain parameters.

GPS has virtually eliminated the need for paper maps to get from point A to point B. Many people argue that GPS has made it safer to drive because drivers and passengers no longer need to fiddle with maps should they get lost. What's more, GPS devices decrease the chances of getting lost and becoming distracted by surroundings when looking to get back on course. For those unfamiliar with the roadways or surroundings, navigation systems can alert drivers to which lane to be in and upcoming turns or obstacles.

However, GPS devices are fallible. Trusting in them too completely can lead to consequences. The following are safe ways to use navigating devices.

• Pre-program the device. Don't program the GPS while moving. Enter the destination prior to departing. For those drivers who need to make changes or more fully examine the directions, pull over to a safe area to do so.

• Select a hands-free device. When buying a device, select a GPS navigation system that is hands-free. This can be a unit that mounts on the windshield or is built into a car's dashboard. Avoid holding a mobile phone to look down at a map. Drivers who do so can take their eyes off the road long enough to cause an accident.

• Learn the terminology. Each GPS unit is different and may have different lingo for particular instructions. Very often a device may instruct drivers to "keep left" when it simply means to stay straight on course. This can confuse motorists who may think they need to get into a left lane. Take the GPS for a trial run in a familiar area to learn its particular quirks.

• Avoid distractions. The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety found GPS use can, in certain instances, increase distractions while driving. NETS found when GPS users muted their devices instead of listening to voice commands, they spent more time looking at the screen than at the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates driver distraction plays a role in up to 30 percent of car crashes in the United States each year. GPS systems can be yet another distraction. Avoid staring at the screen by looking ahead at the directions mapped out by the device to have an idea of what's coming next. This should be done before embarking. Drivers should limit looking at the GPS screen to passing glances, just as they would any component of the car. Have a passenger assist as the navigator.

• Use common sense. Not all directions are accurate and they may change based on road conditions or new traffic patterns. Drivers should not follow GPS directions at the cost of ignoring common sense and road signage. Also, the rules of the road should always take precedence over what the GPS is telling the driver to do.

GPS devices have made getting around easier. Using them in a safe manner can reduce distractions and help drivers reach their destinations.