The Global Position System, or GPS, is a marvelous device that has made our lives so much easier. This is especially true for those of us who frequently travel to places outside our known habitats and are accustomed to the clunky and slightly less than user friendly maps.

I remember the days when, while driving, one had to unfold a map in order to know which direction to head. This involved undoing the neat 16 plus folds, which I have never figured out just how the map makers get so perfect. Then one would need to find a place on the dash, or the console, or in some extreme cases the passenger seat to lay the map down. After that one had to identify just where we were with regard to all these different lines going here there and everywhere. Not to mention that it seems every state in the country has a main street, a 1st avenue, a Jefferson street, and a magnolia drive. Once I remembered what state I was in, and found the little red dot that says “you are here” on the map (that never happens outside of the zoo, does it?), then came the arduous task of tracing a route to where I wanted to go. After that it was all up to memory and one has to admit to getting very good at memorizing which turn comes next and what street to turn left on. Luckily those days are far gone with the advent of the GPS.

Today the challenges are far less intense. Instead of having to deal with folding and unfolding a map, we simply have to find our way around the controls and navigate our way around the menus of a global positioning unit, or GPS. While this may seem much simpler on the outset, and when all is said and done there is nothing quite like your GPS giving you turn by turn directions there are definitely some challenges that come with operating a GPS. Here are some of the ones that cause the most problems.

Firstly you are always told by the GPS unit to not operate the unit while driving the car. In other words, for those of us who need clearly definition, it is advisable to have the car in park and both hands available when operating the GPS unit. This naturally comes from the fact that a vast majority of people prefer to simply operate on the fly, while in the car and hurtling down the road at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour.

Unfortunately, we are not equipped with multiple sets of eyes and hands which means that we are either focused on the road or are focused on getting the right coordinates into our GPS unit. Both are highly unlikely to be efficient. It is also interesting to note that a large population of Americans admit to using a GPS unit while driving. In fact the numbers are quite startling. In a 2011 HealthDay poll the following data was revealed about GPS and distracted driving.

Over 41% of drivers claim to have set or changed the settings on the GPS unit while driving a car. At least 21% of drivers stated that they do it quite frequently.

Secondly it is always with a sense of wonder that I review some of the directions being given to me by a GPS unit that will often wait until the last second before advising me that I need to make a right turn, usually when I am in the left lane. While the technology is gradually getting better there is still a number of times, while driving in the city, that I have had a driver suddenly veer in front of me and take a quick left turn. Often it is because they are following the GPS unit and since city streets are so close together they will often find themselves needing to make quick maneuvers to keep up with the global positioning. This of course can be slightly disconcerting when you are driving around in a place like Tampa, that has very heavy traffic at times. Another interesting quirk that GPS units seem to frequently have is asking you to make the “next legal U-turn”, often in the middle of rush hour where the next legal u-turn could be in the next county. This leads often to a large degree of frustration.

Finally a GPS unit demands our attention, regardless of how much we may want to consider that it does not. We tend to stare at the screen with all the intensity once offered to the maps, and we listen impatiently for that robotic voice to give us our next set of directions. More than half our concentration is focused strictly on being told where to go, which in turn is a major distraction off the roads and the traffic conditions that we need to be focused on while driving. Add to this that we are often greeted with the need to change directions or go around road work or traffic delays that are advertised liberally by our GPS units. As a result, I have found the need to pull over, and make changes to the settings on the GPS unit so that it can find me an alternate route. Unfortunately, many other people prefer to simply give their attention to the GPS unit, and even make the changes that they need while still in the car.

In 2010, there were a total of 235,461 traffic crashes throughout Florida, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles statistics. This means that there were an average of 645 crashes every single day. While some of these accidents resulted in only property damage, others caused serious injuries. Worse, 2,563 people were killed as a result of Florida traffic crashes during 2010.

A great many of these crashes could have been prevented if drivers had simply been paying attention to the road instead of being distracted by their cell phones or other non-driving-related tasks. Distracted driving has become a major source of traffic accidents and fatalities not just in Florida but throughout the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that distracted driving played a role in as many as 20 percent of all crashes causing injury and 16 percent of all crashes causing death in 2009.