GPS Reliance Can Be Dangerous

For today’s commercial vehicle driver, the use of global positioning systems (GPS) is commonplace. However, the increase in reliance on GPS devices has also resulted in numerous “bridge strikes” and other types of motor vehicle accidents.

First, it’s important to understand that not all GPS devices are created equal – there are actually vast differences between GPS devices designed for passenger vehicle use and those designed for commercial motor vehicles. Unlike car-GPS units, commercial vehicle devices contain commercial vehicle-specific mapping data, such as road restrictions and bridge and trestle clearances to help keep you on legal roads for the vehicle you are driving. Therefore, it is very important to use a GPS navigation system or app intended for commercial motor vehicles.

Update your device’s software and maps regularly, and have a road atlas and/or traditional paper maps available as a backup or if the GPS malfunctions.

Update your device’s software and maps regularly, and have a road atlas and/or traditional paper maps available as a backup or if the GPS malfunctions.

While CMV-navigation devices can certainly be useful, there also are growing concerns that drivers can become very reliant on GPS commands and displays, to the point where they might lose focus on the road and safe driving basics. For example, responding to a turning prompt from the GPS without providing the necessary look ahead to ensure the road is clear can lead to hitting fixed objects, or getting boxed in a very tight space and unable to get out of it without the risk of a collision. Be careful to not allow the convenience and ease of use of a GPS lull you into following commands without applying common sense and the fundamentals of safe driving.

Additionally, it should be noted that GPS devices do not account for the size, turning radius, and length of time needed for a larger vehicle to complete the suggested move. As a result, they often provide directions and information about exiting and turning very close to the actual maneuver. If the maneuver cannot be made safely, continue on your current path, even if it adds time and distance to your trip. The GPS device will recalculate and provide an alternate route to your destination.

There are a number of other rules to remember when using GPS devices, including:

  • Ensure your GPS device is securely mounted. It should be mounted in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to avoid it falling while the vehicle is in motion.

  • Know how to operate your GPS device and use its safety features, such as voice control, before driving. If you need assistance, consult the user’s manual, online resources such as YouTube or the device’s manufacturer.

  • Program the device BEFORE hitting the road. That should include inputting your starting point and destination, ensuring the data you’ve entered is correct, adjusting the settings, and familiarizing yourself with the route the device has mapped out. If you must change your destination along the way, pull over to reprogram your GPS device in a safe and legal location.

  • Keep your eyes on the road and not on the device. Rely on the voice directions, with an OCCASIONAL glance at the GPS map to confirm or preview turns, much as you would look at the speedometer or other indicator on your instrument panel.

  • Don’t depend solely on your GPS unit. No matter what type of commercial vehicle device you use, the map data is not always 100% accurate. Also, relying solely on GPS technology means that you can miss out on information that may be useful such as a road that is prone to flooding or other hazards at certain times of the day. Pay attention to your surroundings, watch carefully for pedestrians, bicyclists and motor scooters, and obey all road signs. Update your device’s software and maps regularly, and have a road atlas and/or traditional paper maps available as a backup or if the GPS malfunctions. And remember, as a professional driver, you're still responsible for obeying traffic laws, heeding weight and clearance warnings, and avoiding restricted routes.

Using a GPS device can be a great way to get from point A to point B, and, in most cases, these navigation systems can get you to your destination safely. However, they can’t replace common sense. If things don't look right, they probably aren't.

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