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GPS Route Types


While this will be more than elementary for GPS enthusiasts, ’tis the season for lots of new GPS users who can benefit from this information. What does the “shortest” route mean, and how is that different from the “fastest” route? Some people might raise their eyebrows at the question, however it is a question that we get asked frequently and occasionally correct people on. And what is different about a “pedestrian” route?

Shortest Route

This route style is the one that people often confuse the most. Shortest, meaning the route which will tick the least amount of digits on your odometer. When adding up the distance the route will take to drive, ignoring how long it will take you– the shortest route is the one with the least distance traveled. Note that the shortest route will often take you on slower “back roads” and on routes of any significant distance will rarely get you there in the least amount of time. I wish more GPS devices offered the “economical” route type.

Fastest Route

The fastest route is a route picked that will likely get you there in the least amount of time. While the shortest route is fairly objective, the fastest route is somewhat subjective. The GPS will try to account for things like the estimated travel speed on certain roads, how long it might take to travel through certain intersections, etc. GPS devices can be fairly smart and in some cases will recognize that in general right turns (in North America) are faster than left turns since you don’t have to cross against traffic. This is the route style most people pick when they use a GPS.

Avoid Highways

So you are carrying a big load in the back of your pickup and you don’t want to drive too fast fearing the wind might sweep up some of your load. In this case you might want to use a routing preference to avoid freeways and highways in order to keep you on slower routes. Note that in different parts of the world there are different definitions of “highway”. Think of this routing option as keeping you off roads that have speed limits greater than 55 mph although that definition isn’t set in stone.

Avoid Toll Roads

Toll roads are a little more black and white, and using this routing style should keep you from going through toll booths where you have to hand over cash and coin to pass.

Pedestrian Route

Another type of route that is sometimes misunderstood (on auto GPS devices) is that of a pedestrian route. This does not mean routing in a straight line from point A to point B. The pedestrian mode in an auto GPS device will create a route to your destination along roads, but make use of advantages pedestrians have such as not restricting yourself to going the “correct” way on a one-way street. It might also ignore certain auto turn restrictions and will not let you create a route on an interstate highway.

Bicycle Route

A bicycle route is similar in intention to a pedestrian route. It should recognize that your bicycle is not allowed on an interstage highway, but it will keep you with many “rules of the road” that do apply to auto traffic (and bicycles) such as one-way streets.

Check the Manual

Keep in mind that each manufacturer might implement each of these routing styles in a slightly different manner, and in some cases slightly different from what I’ve described above. Other routing styles less common exist in some devices such as truck routes that will try to avoid roads where commercial traffic is prohibited, or “economical” routes which will take a route that might take you a couple of minutes longer than the “fastest”, but will produce a much “shorter” route thereby saving you a good deal of gas without the expense of much time.

Finally, don’t expect to always agree with the route your GPS picks. We all have our own driving style and road preferences. Put ten people in a room and ask them the “best route” between two locations a significant difference apart and you will get several different answers.

4 Responses

  1. a gps that will display highway avoiding routes

    ilene stein - February 27th, 2008
  2. After using map services and GPS’s for some time, there are two other route types I wish the manufacturers would include:
    – “least number of turns” route
    – “least stressful” route (probably also a scenic route)
    I throughly enjoy your website, keep up the good work!

    Hector - April 18th, 2008
  3. I can think of a couple avoidances that coincide with Hector’s suggestions. Since the mileage on the vehicle I drive drops fast when stopping and starting I’d love to see the avoidances of least stops and avoid heavy traffic. Heavy traffic is certainly stressfull!

    Kevin - May 21st, 2008
  4. Tim,
    I am glad to learn from your website, my questions are these:

    I am currently considering the purchase of a GPS in-car system and have been looking at the advertisements for the

    Uniden TRAX 430.

    Have you ever used or reviewed this particular system? If so, how does it compare with, say, Garmin Nuvi or TomTom ONE XL?

    Which would be the better purchase – and why?

    Thank you very much for any and all help,


    KEVIN - September 19th, 2008

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