Having spent the last 2 days after having gotten my Provisional License using a TomTom XL to navigate Sydney (I suck at navigating without maps or the like, and my street memory doesn’t work well enough in the dark) I have some hopefully helpful advice for other beginner drivers hoping to use such devices to get around.
(Disclaimer: This is entirely personal opinion and should be treated as such – this is in no way a professional endorsement or recommendation. Hopefully enough of this is common sense that it goes without saying.)
First up, get used to driving around with the SatNav on, but ignoring the display whilst in motion at any sort of speed. You should be able to use it entirely via its voice directions without needing to take your eyes off the road. It’s a serious trap to look at the SatNav thinking that the information it’s providing visually is important/useful. If you’re not careful, you’ll find it will pull your attention off of the important things (like road conditions and traffic) and then you’ll get yourself in trouble. Ultimately, your car’s instrumentation (speedo, tacho, etc) is more important than the SatNav, and you probably can only afford one time-slice in your scanning to look at instrumentation. This is exacerbated by the fact that your ability to read the important data off of the SatNav display will be very slow at first, irrespective of how user friendly the device purports to be. (It’s a fundamental familiarity issue)
Next up, get used to driving around with some route programmed into the SatNav and ignore the directions. You have to be able to tune the SatNav out at will and not to try to obey all of its navigational directions all of the time – after 12+ months of obeying your supervising driver, you may actually find this harder than it sounds.
Next, get used to the vocal queues your SatNav uses. Some of them, the TomTom in particular, have rather ambiguous standard vocal prompts which can mislead you if you’re not used to them. (In particular, I find the “…<do something>… ahead” prompts misleading as they occur before the distance countdowns start, and the only prompt that they’re not immediate is the last word spoken). The safest way to do this is to program the SatNav onto routes you already know and use from memory, and then drive along them with the SatNav active – listening to the instructions as you travel along the route.
Now that you’ve gotten the tricky stuff out of the way…
Only operate the SatNav when you’re parked. Seriously. Even if you have a traffic-aware model or ‘one-touch’ model. Trying to operate a SatNav in traffic draws too much of your attention from what the cars around you are doing – you’ll hold up traffic because you’re not moving when you should be, etc. Once you’re extremely familiar with the SatNav, you might be able to get away with operating the simple controls whilst stopped in traffic jams or at lights, but until then, don’t bother – you don’t need to.
Always check the route overview before you unpark, especially for shorter distance routes. SatNavs have a funny habit of occasionally picking really daft routes on the basis of theoretical best speed along the route. For example, if you’re travelling within the suburb, you probably want to pick a shortest path rather than fastest path route. The only way you can be certain is by verifying it before you set off.
Don’t rely on the safety features of your SatNav like over-speed alarms or traffic camera data. You should be able to drive safely without these, and should focus on being able to do so.
Last of all, if you miss a turn off or take a wrong turn, DO NOT PANIC and do not force matters so you comply with the direction. Your SatNav will cope, work out a new route, and try to set you straight. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many routing errors you make as long as you don’t endanger yourself or others by driving in a dangerous manner.