The worst case scenario on a sunny day in a foreign land is being lost and unable to admire the beauty around you. Not only is it impossible to find people to get directions from—chances are that they may not speak English—you will also not be able to park your car by the roadside to ask for directions.Satellite navigation systems are a boon for drivers like us, who have to go around the world to get behind the wheels of a new car. But it took me a long time to become a convert.
My first experience of a SAT NAV (or, rather, its shortcomings) was in a souped up Fiat Stilo in Barcelona. My co-passenger was a friend from Fiat and as we headed out on the motorway, he fiddled with our lifeline, managed to lock it and promptly fell asleep. It is no easy task, trying to figure out how to unlock the system. I gave up pretty soon because I saw two other Stilos whiz past and decided to follow them. I just about managed to keep up with the two drivers, who I thought were giving the cars a dangerous high speed workover. An inkling of something being not right dawned only when I realised that the welcome signs were in French instead of Spanish. Fortunately, one of the cars in front pulled over and the driver explained that he was chasing the first car because some American journalists had just decided to take off in the car, for perhaps an evening in Paris!
The next time was in Greece, where having a free day, I decided to drive to Delphi. The problem arose on the way back, after nightfall, when I was back on the motorway and totally at the mercy of the SAT NAV system. For some inexplicable reason, it kept taking me off the motorway and then back on again, and each time I had to dish out the toll. What should have been a single digit Euro toll was already reaching three digits and I was no closer to my hotel.
Finally, I found a place to buy a map, marked out the way with help from some enthusiastic Greeks and got back just in time to miss dinner. Since then, I have had a fantastic drive through the United States, explored Cape Cod and the crowded New Jersey turnpike just outside New York, fiddling on the system while the car managed to keep a safe distance from the car in front by itself.Wow! I was a convert, and as soon as I moved to Delhi from Pune, I decided to try some of the SAT NAV systems on offer to find my way around. Running late for a movie in Gurgaon, I set the shortest route on the SAT NAV of the black BMW 7-series. I really thought I was taking a shortcut when I turned off the main road, and drove through a semi-urban village till it was reduced to a mud path. The path ended in a small courtyard that was being used to tie buffaloes.
And the system announced that my destination was 200 metres in front! Reversing a 7-series for over two kilometres on a narrow path with cows and buffaloes on either side? Tough!
The roads in the country are not properly mapped yet, nor are there any agencies that stream data on traffic conditions. Until that happens, PPS or PGS (people guidance systems) seem to be the best solution instead of GPS.
Yogendra Pratap is Editor, Auto Bild India