Witch-Finders and Zombies

Tonight with Trevor McDonald on ITV (Why is he billed on it? All he does is an intro and a closing remark – hope he isn't paid for it) promised to be a predictable classic, and it was.

All about the danger of SatNav, and how it was the next big road problem as it sent people into dangerous and impossible places to drive, caused accidents by diverting driver's attention, and was the cause of a new runaway boom in car crime.

In a supposedly fair comparison, they sent an experienced rally navigator plus maps with a camera crew, and a sceptical reporter with her first SatNav, to the same destinations. Disappointingly for the programme, the reporter fared surprisingly well, considering she had to learn how to use her new and drive, while the rally navigator was free to call directions from the map while someone else drove, but the reporter made a good effort at huffing and puffing about anything the SatNav said that he disagreed with. Overall, there wasn't much to choose between the two, but while you could probably afford to buy a SatNav to stick in the car, I doubt most folk could afford to pay a rally navigator to sit beside them all the time and call out directions. All in all then, a really fair comparison (oops, there goes another flying pig).

The real subject of the programme should have been the mentality of the people (or rather zombies) using the system, and who seem to lose all common-sense when presented with a direction they would have laughed at if someone had given them. They seem to be happy to drive into rivers, or along deserted country lanes that are little more than gravel paths or lead to nowhere. More serious still are the people who are to lazy to punch a few keys and program their destinations before the leave, and are being found trying to read the screen and punch in addresses while they are driving. 60+ deaths in Japan so far!

Now that the systems are becoming more common, the software writers have to get a bit more savvy too. They may be able to tweak the programs so that shortest or quickest routes are provided, some refine this further depending on the mode of transport – foot, bike or car – but they should be giving the roads a further weighting so that the routing skirts small villages that are near places like airports, where the residents are being swamped if they find themselves on a convenient route off a motorway or similar.

And then there was the old favourite of car crime figures tacked on the end. Just to make sure it was a eye (or rather ear) catching item, the report stated that theft of SatNav from vehicles had now doubled, but neglected to give us the number. Would this doubling be an increase from 30 reported thefts to 60 (not very noteworthy or catchy) or 2,000 to 4,000? That's noteworthy and catchy, so I reckon the first number is closer.

I hate this kind of Witch-Finder program, it adds nothing to the debate, and attaches the problem to the hardware, rather than the users, so all it's likely to do is inspire some upstanding pillar of the community to propose some sort of legislation against it, rather than doing something about the zombies.

I've managed to use map-based GPS since 1998, and PC-based digital mapping in the car for some years before that, and somehow never killed myself, or anyone else, but now I'm wary of having it in the car, or even the letting the antenna show. The program even advised polishing off the marks of any windscreen suction fittings, as the thieves will assume there is a SatNav in the glove-box if they see the marks, and break in to the car even if it looks empty.

Why is that I have to restrict what I do thanks to the senseless actions of others?


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