You might be surprised to know that one of the most common enquires that comes into our customer service team is around the use of sat navs. Yes, fielding questions about the super useful but oft blamed navigational aid takes up a sizable amount of our time.
Questions range from people wondering whether an in-car sat nav makes a decent walking guide (the answer is no!) to asking for helping setting one up (best to contact the manufacturer) and questioning why a particular route has been chosen (again, best to talk to the manufacturer).
But of course, we are involved in the sat nav industry, supplying some of the underlying data, and so it’s worth explaining our role in a little more detail.
Through our work mapping Great Britain, we collect and maintain a huge amount of information on the nation’s roads. Not just their location and size but also any designated road restrictions – things like One Way Streets, bridges with height or weight limits and turning restrictions.
This data is available to use by private mapping companies who can take it and turn it into the mapping you and I might see on our dashboard sat nav. It’s these companies that add the information that makes routing possible, giving a route a weighting of importance, whilst taking into account user feedback, data from traffic surveys and the size of the road, for example. This process takes time, and it can actually be a couple of years before changes in our data make it into a sat nav in the shops.
Speaking of which, it’s also important that all sat nav owners periodically check if there are any mapping updates available from the manufacturer. You wouldn’t read last year’s newspapers to catch up on current affairs, so don’t relying on out-of-date mapping to help you get around. Any updates will be available from the sat nav company’s website so remember to check now and again, particularly ahead of a long or unusual journey.
So essentially, we only supply the mapping and anything to do with routing ‘aint us guv’. Questions about routing, how up-to-date the mapping is, or how to set up an individual sat nav are all best asked to the company that made it.
Sat navs for heavy goods vehicles
An area where we are often asked to comment (including in a rather nerve shredding live interview with Huw Edwards for BBC News by yours truly) is around the issue of HGV routing and the regularly reported problem of lorries getting stuck down country lanes.
Obviously this isn’t a great situation for anyone. It disrupts the lives of residents but also creates a negative image for the haulage industry and disrupts delivery schedules costing time and money.
The problem lies with lorry drivers relying on sat navs designed to be used in cars. As I mentioned above, we aren’t responsible for routing, but we do collect information that would be of use to HGV drivers – low and weak bridges are clearly things best avoided – but this is only part of the solution.
We are particularly interested in working with local government to map local freight routes – those advised as the most appropriate by a local highways authority – so that a national map of so called ‘freight advisory routes’ can be built.
We hope that this would enable more consistent freight route mapping, providing guidance not only on which routes are to be avoided, but also the best and most sensible ones. With our data now available free at the point of use to all local authorities (via the Public Sector Mapping Agreement) we think this is a real possibility.
We also hope that such consistent and maintained mapping would be used by sat nav manufacturers to make their products reflect the very different needs of HGV drivers and car owners.
I hope that’s a useful explanation, but if you’ve got any comments or questions, just leave a comment and we’ll do our best to answer.
[sat nav photo by Matthew Wilkinson via Flickr]
[Long vehicle sign by Unhindered by Talent via Flickr]