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Staying Safe - and Out of the Lake - with Your GPS

Using a GPS
Photo: iStockphoto

My wife and I were taking a road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco about five years ago and we decided that we'd get ourselves a GPS to help us navigate. High on technology and hubris, we didn't even bother to bring paper maps with us. That's how sure we were that our fancy GPS was going to be all we needed.

Well, you can see where this is going. The GPS was not the magical device we thought it was. Not only did it run out of battery almost immediately, but as it turns out, the car charger that came with it didn't work, so once we were out of juice, we had only the road signs to guide us. HA ha! We pulled over at the first gas station we saw and bought us some paper maps.

We eventually got the GPS recharged and it WAS helpful in a few situations…but it also invited us to "Make a U-turn" in the middle of a busy freeway and told us that taking Trinity Road to get back to our Sonoma hotel was a good idea. Trinity Road remains one of my Top 3 Most Terrifying Drives of All Time. We returned the GPS when we got home.

GPS technology has improved immeasurably in the five years since that road trip - and many drivers find their GPS indispensable. But even with our advanced satellite technology, relying solely on GPS can be a risky proposition. Here are a few ways to stay safe AND arrive at the right destination when using your GPS.

Read your user manual. GPS units are not always the most intuitive pieces of technology to use - and learning how they work on the fly can be both frustrating and dangerous. Take the time to learn how to use yours and definitely test it out locally before taking it on a long road trip.

Don't enter destinations while on the move. If you're typing in an address to your GPS, pull over and stop. Entering an address while you're driving is no different than texting while driving - dangerous to you and others on the road.

Check the typeface. Ideally, once you program your destination into your GPS, you can follow the unit's voice commands while you drive. But if you're like me, you're going to take a peek at the map now and then - and you want to be able to read it. This study from MIT says that choosing the right GPS font is an important safety concern. Make sure that when you do look at your GPS, the font is easy to read and not distracting.

Have a back up. If you're going somewhere you've never been before, maybe take a moment to look it up before you leave the house, so that you have some idea of the route independent of your GPS directions.

Keep the GPS in its place. If your GPS isn't built into the dash, make sure to position it so that it's not blocking important sightlines.

Remember that you are still in control. It's a helpful tool, but in the end, your GPS is just offering guidelines. You are the one doing the actual driving. Use your own common sense. If your GPS tells you to "turn right" - and to your right is a lake - don't drive in to the lake.

Do you swear by your GPS? Or do you have an hilarious "misguided by GPS" story to share? Leave it in the comments!

- Rose R.


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Bruce carr

Another tip... don't bother with a GPS if visiting the Fort... I recently made a trip to Oil Sands, I rented a GPS as I can get lost in my back yard. There is not a single road on the GPS that wasn't dug up or blocked off... the temporary roads were not listed so it was constantly telling me I was off road... Just another comment..Would it hurt to post more signs?????

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