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The Green Life: Study Finds GPS Navigation Systems Make Drivers More Efficient

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April 30, 2009

Study Finds GPS Navigation Systems Make Drivers More Efficient

Gps system A just-released study commissioned by Navteq, a leading provider of digital map data, shows that drivers using Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation devices drove fewer miles (actually, kilometers in this European study) and spent less time driving.

Conflict of interest? Perhaps. But the study, based on more than 2,000 individual trips, 20,000 kilometers (about 12,500 miles) of driving, and almost 500 hours on the road, found that drivers with GPS devices experienced a 12 percent increase in fuel efficiency, a nearly 2,500-kilometer (1,550-mile) drop in distance traveled per driver per year, and a per-driver average of more than 400 Euros ($530) in annual savings on fuel.

The study evaluated drivers with and without navigation systems, taking traffic into account, in the Dusseldorf and Munich metropolitan areas in Germany. No participants in the study had previously used a GPS navigation device. The study also revealed a learning curve, with bigger reductions in driving time and fuel consumption once drivers had familiarized themselves with the GPS systems.

On a personal note, I should perhaps add that I have never used a GPS navigation device while at the wheel of a car. My wife, on a recent trip, reported being driven nearly batty because the GPS system in her rental car wouldn't stop jabbering at her, which she found irritating and distracting. (She eventually figured out how to turn off the sound.)

Many regular users of GPS navigation systems have also no doubt discovered that if one is already familiar with the lay of the land, one's own knowledge of the terrain may be best relied upon. For instance, the "shortest" route from my office to my home, as provided by GPS, routes me onto busy streets where I am more likely to encounter heavy traffic.

To further belabor the point, a cousin who was driving from Chicago to visit my parents in rural Vermont decided to trust his GPS instead of my parents' directions and got routed onto a series of back roads that, while scenic, made the duration of his trip longer even if it marginally reduced his total mileage. (And he drove the final two hours in the dark, rendering the scenery moot.)

On the flip side, a friend who recently moved to Seattle, and who has no choice but to drive between schools around the Puget Sound area for his work, swears by his onboard GPS navigation device. "I wouldn't know where the #%&* I was half the time without it," he told me, "and it would take me a lot longer to find places I haven't been before."

I was also incredibly happy to have a GPS tracking system onboard when a sailboat on which I was crewing began taking on water 250 miles off the California coast. But that's another story…

--Tom Valtin

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