Most of consider getting lost a bad thing, and that’s why there’s been a boom in the sales of portable GPS navigation systems. But now, a new study from Australian auto insurance provider NRMA Insurance suggests that GPS systems might actually present a road safety hazard by becoming a distraction.

After running tests to investigate their impact on driver attention and safety, the company is urging drivers to reposition their portable GPS units and keep their eyes on the road.

The road tests revealed that when drivers were challenged to use the portable GPS unit over a 22-mile (35km) route, they glanced at it around 90 times for an average of 1.2 seconds. This means that when traveling at less than 40 mph (60 km/h) they were looking away from the road for up to 20 yards at a time -- or more than four car lengths.

“We want to make drivers aware of the risks of combining another task with driving. In-car distractions like eating, drinking or using a GPS encourage the driver to take their eyes off the road,” said NRMA Car Insurance spokesperson Robert McDonald. “Losing focus for one second while at the wheel puts you at higher risk of having a collision.”

What should you do about the possible distraction from the nav system?

McDonald recommends that drivers learn to rely on the voice directions rather than looking at the map. He says it’s too distracting to be repeatedly looking at the screen while staying aware of the road and the other cars around you.

“If drivers need to enter a location, look at the map extensively or consider the directions of the GPS, they should pull over and adjust it in a safe place,” said McDonald.

The research also suggested that the safest position for a portable GPS unit is the lower outside corner of the windscreen. Of the positions tested, this location created the smallest blind spot for the driver. In the test, six drivers (ages 27 to 59) drove an unfamiliar urban route on public roads, using the same GPS unit while driving at speeds under the posted speed limit. The drivers’ faces were filmed, with eye movements recorded (a single eye movement is referred to as a “glance”). In the GPS positioning test, four GPS unit positions were examined. Laser angles were recorded at each corner of the GPS unit to calculate the invisible area the GPS unit projected onto the road in front of the vehicle.



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