It used to be the case that the bossy little nag ordering you about in the car was a backseat driver.
But for 10 years it’s been sitting on a little cradle, stuck to the windscreen with a bit of spit and a suction cup.
How the TomTom sat nav ever became such a phenomenal success I’ll never know.
I get how useful it is to be given a step-by-step guide of your journey. What I don’t appreciate is being ordered around by a bellowing Brian Blessed, a smarmy, ageing Roger Moore or a lousy impression of Ozzy Osbourne, which once made its way into my own little navigation nightmare.
Looking back, I’m glad that one got nicked by some opportunistic oik who spotted the suction rings on my windscreen and smashed his way in, climbing through to my boot to get it from my bag and leg it like some kleptomaniac Houdini. The Ozzy voice in particular was more hindrance than help. The actor was trying too hard to be the Prince of Darkness in his boozy heyday and slurred and swore every instruction: “You wanna turn ****in’ roight.”
Poll: Would you be lost without your sat nav?
Then there was the utterly irritating Master Yoda from Star Wars, complete with confusing word order: “At the end of the road, right must you turn, urrrrrrmmmm.”
It seems like anybody who used to be anybody has done a SatNav voice – the former Monty Python John Cleese, Brian Blessed. It’s easy money though. The sat nav only has about 57 commands so it isn’t as though it would take a long time.
My own irritations with the comedy voices aside, the sat nav has changed the way we drive forever.
Luke Bosdet from the AA says: “They’ve been a mixed bag. In general, they’re more benefit than bane. The benefit is getting more drivers where they want to go by the quickest route, reducing the disruption, the wasted fuel and the pollution.
“The bane is when there are incidents on the road and diverted traffic, sat navs just make it worse, spreading the congestion around. The other problem is when people blindly follow their sat navs down roads that really are not suitable for their vehicles.” And there have been plenty of cases of that. Take the lorry driver who got stuck down Queen Street in Shrewsbury in 2008 or down a country lane in Chirk.
Then there were the drivers getting stuck in a muddy brook down a tight country lane in Claverley in 2010.
Motorists had to get their vehicles towed out of the brook on a lane near Upper Aston.
In 2007, Glamorgan Council in Wales became the first authority to have to fork out for pictorial signs telling lorry drivers not to believe their sat navs.
Foreign drivers who did not speak English were being blamed for bringing bedlam to little, narrow lanes. The following year, people in Donnington near Telford thought they were being invaded as tanks rolled through their village. It was actually a bunch of lost soldiers looking for the army base of the same name 15 miles away.
In Wolverhampton, sat navs brought an altogether different problem.
In 2009 a bunch of idiotic drivers under 25 were racing their sat navs, trying to beat the estimated journey times. According to a survey by Autoglass the city was one of the worst areas in the country for it.
Shopkeepers also found they lost trade if there were glitches in the system.
Dapper Dan Suit Hire, based in Wednesfield, reported people phoning up saying they were lost – seven miles away in Wombourne. “I ask them if they are near Somerfield or Woolworths, owner Paul Newton said in 2008, “and they start describing Wombourne’s cricket pitch.”
Council bosses had to put up signs along the A442 south of Quatt, near Hampton Loade, to tell drivers of an error with the systems which tell them they can cross the River Severn at a bridge which has not been there since World War One.
Incredibly, however, the bosses of satnav maker TomTom believe they deserve credit for saving 13 million marriages.
Dutchman Harold Goddijn and his French wife Corinne Vigreux say their gadget helped couples avoid arguments over navigation. Probably because they united behind a common enemy – that smug sounding sat-nag on the windscreen.
Sat nav facts:
- 5 million people have driven up a one-way street with a sat nav
- 300,000 accidents have been caused
- 75 million TomTom devices have been sold
- 13 million marriages saved (TomTom claim)
- 175 billion miles driven with a TomTom guide
- £499 – cost of a sat nav in 2004
- £139 – cost of a sat nav in 2014
- £12.95 – cost of a spiral-bound A-Z atlas of the West Midlands
Celebs to have voiced the sat nav include:
- Former 007 Roger Moore
- Marge Simpson
- Kim Cattrall
- KITT from Knight Rider
- Billy Connolly
- Darth Vader
- Burt Reynolds
- John Cleese
- Snoop Dogg
- Brian Blessed
- Mr. T
- Dennis Hopper
- Scott Dixon