Does GPS Make You a Better Driver?

Driving can be a cakewalk when you know where you’re going (say, grandma’s house). But what about when you don’t? Then the drama begins. Sweaty palms. That foreboding sense that time is ticking away and you aren’t getting any closer to your destination. Let’s face it: getting lost opens up a whole can of unpleasantness. Fortunately, there’s an alternative. GPS can tell you exactly how the heck to get there from here.

And it can also help make you a better driver.

It may sound a little crazy, but hear us out. GPS helps you avoid circling around and around or stopping to ask for directions. The result: better driving (as you reduce the number of illegal U-turns needed to get to your destination) AND increased fuel efficiency.

Put simply, GPS is a game changer. So here’s a little info about its history, how it works, and some tips on its use.

History of GPS

Knowing where you are is pretty important, whether that happens to be the empty expanses of the Atlantic or bumper-to-bumper traffic in Atlanta. But how do we ever really know where we are?

In the 18th century, sailors used sextants (not what you think) and marine chronometers to determine their positions in terms of latitude and longitude. And over the next 200 years only slight improvements came along.

Then Sputnik rocketed onto the scene and the idea of using radio signals and satellites to figure out your position took off. Unfortunately, it took a while for the technology to catch up with the concept: the first NAVSTAR satellite launched in 1978 (21 years after Sputnik) and the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS to us) wasn’t fully functional until 1994.

Since then, however, GPS technology has continued to advance. And with competing programs from Russia, Europe, and China, the pressure is on to implement new innovations that’ll make the system even more accurate and efficient.

How GPS works

GPS satellites transmit high-powered radio signals. These signals are picked up by a receiver, which can determine each satellite’s distance based on how long it takes the signal to reach the receiver. By triangulating the signals from 3 different satellites, the receiver is able to determine the location of each. Pretty tricky, no?

Advances in the technology and use of multiple frequencies help compensate for local and atmospheric interference, which in turn improves the precision of the system. Today, most receivers (sometimes referred to as roving receivers) are able to pinpoint their position within 10 to 15 meters.

Tips for using GPS

GPS navigators can be an indispensable aid when you’re trying to find your way around unfamiliar places. But as with most technologies, you need to interact with it in a way that’ll reduce your stress, not increase it. So here are some helpful tips.

  1. Remember you’re the driver. Don’t let the directions from your GPS navigator overrule good sense. If it attempts to steer you into a river or lake, assume the directions are faulty (and blame your roving receiver).
  2. Keep your eyes on the road. Keep in mind that distracted driving is extremely dangerous and avoid fooling around with your GPS or staring at its display while driving.
  3. Check your route beforehand. GPS is a great tool, but it helps to have a general idea of where you’re going and how to get there. By familiarizing yourself with the destination area you’ll be able to recognize any problems ahead of time (instead of after the fact).
  4. Test all the features. GPS units often come with all sorts of features. Figure out which work for you by giving them all a test-drive (so to speak). One word of advice: if your GPS offers spoken instructions, use them. This will allow you to focus on the road instead of your GPS map.
  5. Practice using your GPS. Trying to get the knack of your GPS while in unfamiliar territory is a recipe for stress and frustration. Give yourself some time to get the features down in a safe, comfortable setting first (then put it through its paces later).

With a little preparation and a trusty GPS unit at your side, getting around can be that much easier, and your driving (and gas mileage!) that much better.

Related links

Green GPS
Learn about how researchers at the University of Illinois are developing a green GPS system that plots the most fuel-efficient route for various types of vehicles.

 

Whose voice would you want to hear on your GPS?
Weigh in.

Lots of people name their GPS.
Do you?

Driving in Fog: 7 Simple Tips

Fog may be one of the most beautiful of all the less-than-ideal weather conditions out there. But as anyone who has ever inched their way through it knows, it can also be one of the most dangerous. Particularly dense fog can lower your effective range of vision to less than one-fourth of a mile (pretty significant when you keep in mind that you can normally see trillions of miles into space).

As with all the less-than-ideal weather conditions, it’s best to avoid driving in fog (especially the pea soup variety) whenever you can. But if you’ve got to hit the road despite the fog banks, follow these 7 simple tips to improve your chances of making it to point B safe and sound:

  • Drive with your lights on the low setting. Your high beams will just hit the water vapor that makes up fog and shine right back at you — limiting your vision even more.
  • Keep it slow — and keep an eye on your speedometer. By obscuring surrounding points of reference, fog can create the illusion that you’re traveling slower than you really are, so watch that needle to maintain a safe but reasonable speed.
  • Crack your window. What you can’t see, you can sometimes hear. Opening your window a little bit will improve your chances of hearing invisible traffic.
  • Use your wipers and defroster. They can do a lot to optimize visibility.
  • Don’t follow taillights. If you’re having trouble staying on the road (or even finding it), don’t follow the car ahead, which is likely as lost as you are. Instead, watch the painted lines on the right shoulder or the middle of the road.
  • Avoid the temptation to pass. If you’re running late, your foot might ache to put the pedal to the metal, but with less than one-fourth mile of visibility, oncoming traffic can literally come out of nowhere.
  • Don’t stop on a freeway or busy road. If your car stalls or breaks down, take your foot off the brake and pull slowly to the side of the road when safe to do so. Once you’re safely parked, turn off your lights. People tend to follow taillights when driving in fog, so it’s important to get out of the way of traffic as quickly as possible.

Next time the fog comes rolling in, keep these 7 pointers in mind and show that fog who’s boss (unless you happen to take a detour into the Twilight Zone — no driving tips known can save you from that).

Related links

Safe driving tips for every season
The 6 species of fog
Winter Driving Tips: The Remix

Top 4 Things Esurance Is Thankful For

Turkey. Cranberry sauce. Yams (optional). And to round it all out, a little gratitude. Here are the top 4 things we’re thankful for.

  1. Our customers. You know how when big stars win awards, they say something like, “I want to thank all my fans for making this possible!” And you think, “Ya, ya, ya.” Well, it’s actually true. We’re not big stars, but we do understand that without our customers we wouldn’t be anything. Or anywhere. So we’d just like to say, “Sincere thanks to all our customers, without whom none of this would be possible.”
    Thank you!
  2. Good drivers. This year, just like every other year, we’re thankful for the good drivers out there. In fact, we’d like to take a moment to applaud all you safety-conscious road warriors who wear your seat belts, drive the speed limit, don’t tailgate, turn off your phones, avoid the booze (before driving), and as much as you can, follow the rules of the road. Whether you’re an Esurance customer or not, we appreciate the fact that you’re doing your part to keep everyone safe.
  3. Safer cars. From the invention of the seat belt in 1849 to the cool gadgets of today, technology has literally driven vehicle safety forward. And with new features — like Blind Spot Detection — coming onto the market all the time, we’re certain that it’s only a matter of time before we have the world’s first accident-proof car. Ok, maybe not. But as a car insurance company, our top priority is keeping drivers safe, and we’re thankful for the modern advancements that help bring that goal within reach.
  4. Pumpkin pie. Hey, we’re only human. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Please remember to drive safe this weekend … and buckle up!

Greatest Winter Driving Tips

Winter is in full swing, and many parts of the country are experiencing the incredible strength of Mother Nature. With snowstorms bearing down on the Upper Midwest, rain pounding the Pacific Northwest, and thunderstorms predicted for some parts of the South, we compiled a comprehensive list of Esurance driving resources. You might call it our winter driving remix. Or you might just call it a handful of helpful tips.

How to drive in adverse weather conditions

Ice
Apart from not driving at all, the best way to handle icy roads is to drive slowly and cautiously. Leave plenty of room between your car and the car in front of it, and gently brake for stop signs and red lights ahead of time. Try to avoid slamming on the brakes, too, because it could lead to skidding. And beware of ice on bridges, overpasses, and seldom-used roads.

Snow
Slow down by pumping your brakes and leave plenty of room in front of your car. You can prep your car for snowy conditions by replacing older windshield wipers and checking your tires. A tire needs a tread that’s at least 6/32-inch deep (a new tire is typically 10/32). It’s also a good idea to have a bag of sand and a shovel in your car just in case.

Hail
Hail is snow’s angry brother, and it can seriously damage your car. If you’re already on the road, try to get your car underneath something like an overpass. Hail causes over $1 billion in damages every year, and the best way to protect your car is to keep it covered until the storm passes.

Rain
It’s safer than ice or hail, but don’t let it fool you. It’s easy to hydroplane (when the water prevents your tires from hitting the road) in the rain at speeds over 50 mph.

To help you manage these challenges and stay safe during the wet months, here are 5 tips for driving in the rain.

Black ice
That sunshine sure is nice, but it may be trying to trick you. If it rained or snowed recently and the thermometer’s around freezing, be wary of black ice left over from yesterday’s weather. Black ice is notoriously difficult to spot, so keep it in mind as you start your drive. If you find yourself skidding and it’s too late, the first thing to do is release the gas pedal. Then turn into the direction of the skid without slamming the brakes.

Avoid floods while driving

Of course, the more it rains the more likely floods and flooded roads become. Did you know that just 6 inches of water is enough to reach the bottom of most passenger cars and in some cases enough to sweep a car away?

Find out how to avoid flood-driving (as well as flood-damaged cars).

Your winter car kit

Part of being prepared for winter driving means being prepared to be stuck. No matter how good a winter driver you may be, you never know when conditions might worsen to the point that your only option is to pull over and wait it out. When this happens, you’d be wise to have your winter car kit fully stocked.

Check out our 11 must-haves for your winter car kit to make sure you have everything you need.

Avoiding deer

And because November signals the beginning of deer-mating season and a related increase in accidents involving cars and animals, don’t miss this post on how to steer clear of Bambi.

Safe driving!

Whether you’re facing down a blizzard in Babbitt, Minnesota, or waiting out a thunderstorm in South Ogeechee, Georgia, use these tips to stay safe (and hopefully warm and dry) this winter.

Other helpful winter tips

Don’t get caught out in the cold this holiday season — winterize your car before it’s too late!

Winterize your home to avoid these 6 nightmare scenarios

Related links

Don’t let depreciation defeat you: 4 smart tips for buying a car

Safe driving tips for nearly every situation

The Austin Film Festival: Esurance Audience Award Winners

Here at Esurance, we’re more than just actuarial gurus — you might call us culture vultures as well. That’s why we actively support both the Austin Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Esurance Audience Award Winners at the Austin Film Festival

At this year’s Austin Film Festival, we sponsored the coveted Audience Award, which gives festival attendees a voice, letting them select their favorites in each of the event’s categories. It’s a significant award for aspiring and established filmmakers alike, and past winners have gone on to receive even more prestigious recognition.

Danny Boyle’s critically acclaimed “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won 8 Academy Awards in 2008, and Diablo Cody’s wildly popular “Juno” both grabbed the Audience Award in years past.

But for those honored, hopes of future Academy recognition aren’t the only reasons the Audience Award means so much. Here’s what a couple of this year’s winners had to say about the event and their triumph:

“On behalf of team Sironia, just wanted to thank all of you for such a fantastic festival! We had a blast and couldn’t have been more thrilled to have the film premiere there. Met some great new folks / filmmakers and potential future collaborators.”

D. Smith
Producer of “Sironia,” winner of the Austin Film Festival and Esurance Audience Award for Texas Independents

“This is probably the best news I’ve had since … well since I was in the middle of an internet cafe in Zambia after shooting ‘Mwansa.’ I was incredibly broke and I was sent an email telling me that I would get funding for my post-production and I feel like I am at that cafe again … where I broke down in front of everyone …. Thank you for being very kind.”

Rungano Nyoni
Winner of the Austin Film Festival and Esurance Audience Award for Best Narrative Short Film

The rest of the Austin Film Festival winners

If you’re anything like us — i.e., always on the lookout for a great new film to catch — here are the rest of the Esurance Audience Award winners:

Out of Competition Feature

“The Artist”
Writer/Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Narrative Feature

“Restive”
Writer/Director: Jeremiah Jones

Documentary Feature (Tie)

“Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters”
Director: Adam Cornelius
“Stories from an Undeclared War”
Director: Dennis Rice

Texas Independents

“Sironia”
Writers: Brandon Dickerson, Thomas Ward, Wes Cunningham
Director: Brandon Dickerson

Comedy Vanguard

“Fred & Vinnie”
Writer: Fred Stoller
Director: Steve Skrovan

Narrative Short

“Mwansa the Great”
Writers: Rungano Nyoni, Gabriel Gauchet
Director: Rungano Nyoni

Narrative Student Short

“Benny”
Writers: Evan Ho, Huay Bing-Law
Director: Huay Bing-Law

Animated Short

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”
Writer: William Joyce
Directors: William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg

Documentary Short

“Elliott Erwitt: I Bark At Dogs”
Director: Douglas Sloan

Learn more about the festival and other award winners at the Austin Film Festival website.