GPS safety – how to be safe and stay safe

When used correctly, a GPS unit can be a real time and lifesaver. It’ll get you where you need to be, on time, and (usually) with the best route. There are however some basic precautions you need to take in order to stay safe. Some of these tips are very logical, but as I drive around, I still see people neglect to follow even the most basic safety tips.

I have compiled 6 basic tips that will help keep you and your passengers safer as you drive around with your GPS unit.
Use the right mount

Can you imagine what kind of damage a GPS unit will do if you hit another vehicle? It turns from a GPS unit into a projectile. Never place your GPS unit on the dashboard without a proper mount. Also, be sure to keep your GPS unit out of your line of sight. In some states, the law prohibits your GPS unit from being mounted in the middle of the windshield.

In California for example, your GPS unit must be mounted in the lower corner of the driver side (in a 5″ square) or in the lower corner of the passenger side (in a 7″ square). Anywhere else is against the law, so you’ll need to invest in a beanbag mount or vent mount if you want it in the middle.

Don’t program when driving

The unit warns you about this, but I still see plenty of people fiddling with their GPS unit while barreling down the highway at 70 miles an hour. Leave the programming to your passenger(s) or pull over when permitted. Messing with your GPS unit while driving ranks up there with texting while driving.

If you can’t resist the urge to mess with the GPS while driving, then it may be time to invest in a voice activated unit like the Magellan Maestro 4700. A unit like this accepts a variety of spoken commands, and allows you to focus on the road instead of your gadget.

Program your destination(s) before you leave

If you plan to take your GPS unit on a trip, and use it in your rental car, be sure to program your destination(s) in the unit before your leave. Since most GPS units are battery operated, simply bring the unit inside the night before you leave, and add all the hotels, restaurants and attractions you want to visit. This will prevent messing with papers and guidebooks and wasting valuable trip time.

If you do rent, don’t forget to be sure the airport is set as a favorite location, and check the surrounding area for cheap gas to top off the rental before returning it.

If you are renting from Hertz, and opted to pay extra for their Neverlost system, you can even copy your destinations to a USB memory key and copy them to the Neverlost system as soon as you get in the vehicle.

Know how to operate the GPS

There is nothing more annoying than trying to figure out how to program your GPS unit when you are lost or stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. Before embarking on any long trip, spend some time getting to know your GPS unit.

Your wife (or husband) may not appreciate it, but you can spend some time going over its various features before going to bed. GPS units are fairly intuitive, but the user guide is still there for a reason. Especially when you want to use the more advanced features, all your passengers will appreciate the time you took to go over the manual.

Don’t consider the GPS to be king (or queen)

If your GPS unit tells you to turn left when you clearly see a “do not enter” sign, don’t listen to it. Every year, people actually die when they consider the GPS voice to be a command, rather than just a suggestion.

A GPS unit is not a replacement for common sense and sensory awareness. If your GPS unit says the speed limit is 55, and you are caught when it was actually 40, no judge is going to let you off the hook.

Check the suggested route before you leave

This one is an extension of the previous one – if your GPS unit suggests a route, take 30 seconds to read through the route to be sure it leads where you need to go.

A simple typo could lead you completely in the wrong direction. This happened to two Swedish tourists on their way to Italy. Their typo sent them to Carpi, instead of the island village of Capri. The difference? 400 miles. Remember, a GPS unit is no replacement for basic geography knowledge.