Kate Simon: Sat-navs are the route to holiday happiness

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The Independent Travel

We've become "dangerously dependent" on GPS sat-nav systems, the Royal Academy of Engineering warned in a report last week. And, it added, if the problem isn't tackled it could result in "loss of life".

From weather hazards to interference, satellite signals are more vulnerable than we realise, according to the RAE. It maintains that even subtle errors could have calamitous consequences. For example, ships and planes could be sent perilously off course.

Dr Martyn Lewis, chair of the group that wrote the report, told the BBC: "There is a growing interdependence between systems that people think are backing each other up."

His organisation wants to raise awareness of the need to put adequate back-up systems in place, to see a change in the law that would make the possession of jammers illegal, and to win government support for development of hardware solutions.

How easily we accept new technology into our everyday lives. It seems the convenience offered by the latest invention outweighs our need to give much thought to troublesome questions such as safety and security.

It's certainly hard to imagine a world without car sat-navs now. Within a few short years they've become a familiar sight on every other windscreen. I surely love my sat-nav, not least because it has brought peace to our family car.

Thanks largely to my quick temper, I've spent far too many holidays having screaming rows with my partner about who should have realised we needed to take the previous turning. Now it's just a case of punch in the postcode and off we harmoniously go.

What's more, it has increased my confidence, as the sole driver in the family, to get behind the wheel when abroad. Taking the stress of map-reading in a foreign language out of the equation has smoothed our way around France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Last year, when my family was stranded by the ash cloud in Portugal, I got a reminder of the bad old days of following the printed map.

We joined up with a few other hotel guests to share the journey back to the UK in a people-carrier. But the lead driver wouldn't countenance using a sat-nav and guided us home with an elaborate system of notes and maps.

This meant he had to remain awake for the whole journey to direct each driver, and when it came to his turn to drive, he spent an alarming amount of time with his eyes off the road studying his directions (at night, through the Basque mountains).

Now the genie's out of the bottle, car sat-navs are here to stay. But the RAE's report is a timely reminder that while we should embrace technological developments, we should treat them a little less like miracles.

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