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Words from Winterbilt

Driving Habits and Technology

Shannon Bohrer

Someone once said that the one thing all Americans have in common is that "Americans are all above average drivers." When I read that I thought maybe I just drive on the wrong roads? I do believe that most Americans are good drivers and generally safe, however there are some exceptions. One that annoys me is when someone cuts in front of me but neglects to use a turn signal. It must be very annoying to purchase a very big and expensive vehicle and have broken turn signals. I do believe that I would be taking that car back to the dealer to have the turn signals fixed.

One thing all Americans have in common is that "Americans are all above average drivers."

I am sure that most of you have also witnessed vehicles sitting at a traffic light but when the light changes, the vehicle does not move. After a while the driver stops talking on the cell phone and then the vehicle moves. Technology has affected many drivers and it seems that on some days everyone I see is using an electrical device while driving. One device I have noticed is the GPS sitting in the windshield of many vehicles. A GPS is a device that tells you where you are and how to get where you need to go. Maybe they could be installed in politicians? I have driven as far south as the Gulf Coast, as far north as Maine and as far west as the Rocky Mountains, with no GPS. And I have never been lost. If you talk to my wife she may not agree, but this is my column so I can say what I want.

Earlier this year I traveled to Chicago for a training conference with two of my co-workers. We traveled by company car and both co-workers brought their GPS units. This was an experience, not a significant emotional event, but an experience. Both co-workers, Dan and Dennis, seemed to have great confidence in their GPS. If they had asked me to program the device we would have never left. Dan's unit was placed on the dash board and he put in the address of our destination. As we traveled, the screen depicted a road with the interstate number. Very impressive!

After about an hour we had to make a stop; we needed to relieve ourselves of the rented coffee. As we turned off the highways, the GPS spoke "recalculating ." Dan and Dennis looked at each other and nodded in unison as if to say "it's working." Before leaving the rest area we purchased more coffee to go. As we pulled out, the GPS again spoke "recalculating" and I began to wonder what else this GPS says.

At some point Dennis turned on his GPS and confirmed the information the GPS on the dash was giving us. This was done as we passed an exit and I commented "It isn't that smart; I could tell you were we were." Both Dennis and Dan made a comment about my technological expertise. I don't know what they meant but it had something to do with my home telephone still being a rotary dial type. I also noticed that Dennis's GPS did not talk, or if it did I could not hear it.

As we pulled out the GPS again spoke "recalculating" and I began to wonder what else this GPS says.

After several more stops, I noticed Dan and Dennis becoming annoyed by the cool, accented female voice saying "recalculating." Maybe they expected her to say something else? At one point we turned off the highway, and Dan told the GPS to "shut up." I don't think the GPS heard him. After we were over half-way to our destination, Dan figured how to turn off the voice in the GPS.

As we were nearing our destination Dan turned on the voice to the GPS. We exited on to a ramp and at the top of the ramp the voice said "turn left at the top of the ramp." I was looking at the map and said "we should be turning right," to which the GPS said, "hey old man, do you have to stop again?" Dan claims he did not hear this, maybe Dennis said it? We turned left, made a left at the next intersection and then heard "recalculating." Dan turned around and the GPS said "you have reached your destination." We were on the shoulder of a road, with an industrial park to our left and a narrow wooded area and a stream on our right. This was not our destination.

At one point we turned off and Dan said "shut up" to the GPS. I don't think the GPS heard him.

Dan then re-entered the address of our destination and on the screen two identical addresses were displayed. Dan commented that the problem was that there were two identical addresses in Chicago area. I wondered if the hotel knew this and I also wondered how many other people using a GPS and looking for the same hotel had stopped where we stopped. With the new address, actually the same one, we went back the way we came. We passed the ramp (where we should have made a right) and several intersections later found the hotel. Turning into the hotel parking lot the GPS said "You have reached your destination," to which Dan and Dennis both made comments that I should not repeat.

Technology is supposed to be helpful, but sometimes I question it. I question if the wrong address, the one next to the woods, is it really an address? The hotel is only a couple of miles from that location. Can the GPS make excuses, "Oh I am sorry, I thought you wanted the other 10 main street." Maybe the GPS is programmed so that after it says that you have reached your destination, and you have not, it then makes up an excuse.

Dan, Dennis, and I drove back to Maryland from Chicago but I don't remember Dan or Dennis turning on their GPS units. We only made one wrong turn on the return trip. It was a very good conference, with a lot of new technology stuff.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer