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Sat Nav Mishaps for Mobile City Blog

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To start things of, you can probably think of at least one satellite navigation system (sat nav) mishap. Either from your own experience, a friend’s anecdote, or from an article in the “comedy” section of your favourite newspaper. Some stories, however, are far from pleasant for the user or the environment. I wrote this post for the The Mobile City blog. It is related to my New Media MA thesis at the University of Amsterdam, for which I did a case study on “Sat Nav mishaps”, a term derived from Anthony Dunne’s reference to Mobile Mishaps in the 90s. I’ll write a more elaborate post on this subject later, as I’m still in the process of finishing the final version. I’ve also removed the draft version, which was on here for a few days as an example for the Mobile City conference. In a larger scope, the goal of the case study is to research how communication between local and global space in satellite navigation system use can be understood and, more specifically, how communication can be enabled. As we shall see, there are not just consequences for the user of the system, but also for local space and territory. The following stories show just the tip of the iceberg of Sat Nav Mishaps appearing around the globe, in repetitive fashion.

Car wrecked on railroad crossing
Paula Ceely’s story, a 20 year old student from Redditch in England, had her car wrecked after she followed her navigation system onto a railway track. Fortunately, Ceely escaped injury in the incident, otherwise the consequence of sat nav use would have been very grim. ‘I put my complete trust in the sat nav, there were no signs at all and it wasn’t lit up to warn of an oncoming train,’ Ceely told British broadcaster BBC. An article in local Welsh newspaper The Western Telegraph sparked a heated debate by locals as to whether the crossing should be made safer for drivers unfamiliar with the local. However, Paula is not unique, a similar story surfaced in the United States.

Car crash at rail road

What makes Paula Ceely’s story most interesting, is that it exemplifies a locally initiated call to adjust a hazardous situation caused by sat nav. And because the mishap repeats itself, as mentioned by the locals, it tends to change existing meaning of neighbourhoods. This is not just a single case: Dutch and Belgian municipalities have filed complaints about increases in traffic moving through their residential areas.

Netherlands and Belgium: Villages file complaint against Sat Nav use
Woldendorp GPS

In September 2006, villages around Dutch municipality Delfzijl filed a complaint about truck drivers, mostly new to the region, using their navigation systems and causing dangerous speeding situations. On the trajectory from Nieuweschans to Delfzijl, drivers can skip fourty kilometers if they choose the shortest route algorithm. The downside is that on large parts of the trajectory the speed limit is only thirty or fifty kilometres per hour. Local Theo Nijland from the village of Woldendorp says: ‘most truck drivers usually drive eighty kilometres an hour and started to hit the breaks just before a turn’.

Sint Gilles Sat Nav

In Belgium, traffic flow through a number of villages has increased after implemention of navigation systems in traffic. In February 2007, Belgian minister of mobility Pascal Smet, in response to a complaint from the municipality of Sint-Gillis, asked nineteen municipalities around Brussels to map all conflict zones dealing with an increase in traffic due to GPS navigation. Before Sint-Gillis two other municipalities, Mortsel en Leuven, already complained about the traffic increase. Especially near schools and village centres traffic should be decreased. Similar stories have surfaced in the United Kingdom, specifically in Micklefield and Barrow Gurney.

From database error to damaging houses
The new routes not only cause a nuisance, in some cases, trucks or cars driving through villages are responsible for physically damaging the local. Villagers in English Carmarthenshire say they fear restoration work is being damaged by drivers using satellite navigation. Local residents mentioned that trucks and lorries were smashing into buildings ‘that have already had thousands of pounds spent on them’. Belgian village Meulebeke is experiencing similar damages. Because of sat nav use, heavy lorries are (illegally) driving through the center of the village. Houses have been damaged because the trucks are unable to make the turns.

Village damage Meulebeke

On a larger scale, English rail road company Network Rail blames drivers ‘following satellite navigation (satnav) instructions down narrow roads for a surge in damage to bridges and crossings.’ According to research done by the company, trucks have caused £15m-worth of damage in the past year ‘by striking low or narrow bridges after being directed under them by their in-cab systems.’

Seeking Solutions: Ignore your Sat Nav signs
Because of these mishaps, new ways are being sought the local to communicate with the user. A local space is being challenged, or tagged, by new meaning of global satellite navigation system use; the consequences of satellite navigation system use are similar all around the globe, as is evident in above stories. However, there seems to be an inability to communicate, or incompatibility, between spaces. The following solutions exemplify this. Firstly, there are calls for GIS database change by (local) politicians, for example in The Netherlands and the village of Barrow Gurney in the United Kingdom.

Secondly, and perhaps most interesting, is the appearing of new signs that constitute a level of acceptance into existing, dominant traffic protocol. Dutch village Roermond has put up signs to ask sat nav users to turn off their systems and follow an official detour (omleiding).

Roermond GPS detour

Exton, an English village, also put up a sign asking drivers to ignore their system. As local Brian Thorpe-Tracey mentions: ‘About two years ago we noticed a real increase in drivers using the lane. Vehicles are getting stuck and having to reverse back up, damaging the wall and fence. There’s even a piece of metal embedded 12ft up in a tree which looks like it’s come off a lorry.’

exton image

In a Welsh village, the first official British road signs to warn drivers about the dangers of trusting their sat nav. Especially foreign truck drivers navigating the region with their sat navs found themselves driving unsuitable roads.

sat nav official

Satellite navigation systems, the most widely used GPS enabled application in consumer society today, are causing interesting mishaps and perhaps even more interesting responses by local space and traffic protocol. However, solutions, such as traffic signs and calls for database change, do not enable any dialogue between global user and local inhabitant, battling over territory’s meaning. Therefore, the interesting question remaining is: how can real-time dialogue between local and user, using global technology, be established? If the sat nav algorithm would be able to take into account emotion, for example drawing its information from an Emotion Map, a vibrant dialogue might just emerge. Sat nav algorithms, the automated decision making process of navigation, is taking on existing traffic protocol. But even Sat navs are arguing what route is the best.

Written by newmw

February 20, 2008 at 10:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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