/ Motoring, Technology

Ditch the sat nav and use a map!

Sat nav sign

A survey this week revealed that more than two thirds of under-25s can’t read a map and are totally reliant on a sat nav when driving. Shouldn’t we be able to manage without GPS?

Two small occurrences have combined to compel me to start banging away on my keyboard about sat navs.

A couple of weeks ago, my other half declared indignantly that he should buy a second sat nav so he could have one in each of his two cars. He uses the devices religiously, even on journeys when he’s pretty sure that he knows where he’s going already.

And then MyVoucherCodes’s survey about the majority of under-25s being unable to read a map hit my inbox. What on earth happened to the adventurous spirit of the young at heart? You can’t stick a pin in a sat nav to select a destination and then drive there just for fun!

Learn to use a map

On a more serious note, what do such people do if their electronic directions box develops a fault? If they haven’t even mastered the simple art of map-reading, they’re unlikely to have learnt how to work out where ‘north’ is by using the sun or stars – so they’re going to be lost for a long time.

In contrast to the under-25s surveyed, I don’t own a sat nav and I don’t want one. It may take a little longer to check the map and note down directions before setting off, but once I’ve done this for one route, all this info will stay in my head for future journeys.

Ok, so I do get occasionally lost, but considering I drive around 15,000 miles a year, I don’t think that’s too bad.

There’s a place for sat navs

This isn’t to say I’m a total luddite. Just like my colleague Chris Christoforou – who recently posted a Conversation questioning our reliance on sat navs – I appreciate that they’re important for industries like aviation and shipping.

They can be useful for other situations too, such as directing you to a cheaper petrol station when you’re on a long haul journey. And we know it’s important to test them, as so many people find them useful and want to know which sat navs are best.

But, like Chris, I am concerned that our society is becoming too reliant on these little black boxes. What about you – are you on the side of the sat nav or the good old paper map?

john romney says:
18 July 2011

I have no satnav and don’t want one. When I am going into a strange town I google it and take copies of exactly where I need to go. But then with 80 years behind me I suppose I have mastered several skills that 25 year olds have. But don’t knock ’em, they have many I never needed and it’s too late for now.

john romney says:
18 July 2011

Meant to type “that many 25 year olds DONT have”. But that’s one of the flaws of 80 years!

Sally Hanley says:
19 July 2011

I agree with John. A directions site which says ‘turn right in 5.3 miles, turn left in 50m’ is just plain boring and almost impossible to do when you’re watching the road, pedestrians, cyclists etc.
A sat nav which does a similar thing is not necessarily any better.
I prefer to know about local landmarks and always give my clients landmarks to show they’re on the right road ‘turn left by the post box, right opposite the Fox & Hounds etc. I read the map, plan the route, look for landmarks on the satellite map, and get there (usually) hassle-free.
Okay, so it may be ‘quicker’ with a sat nav, but they’re not always right are they. And when they’re wrong, it can be spectacular. Some traditional skills keep showing they’re not done with yet!

JinnyG says:
21 July 2011

I have always had a fascination with maps. Not only can you see the topography of the area where you are but you see yourself in relation to your surrounding villages and towns. I saw a television programme sometime ago called “That’ll Teach Them” and I was appalled to see that “A” grade GCSE students could not place London or any of our major cities in the correct place on an outline map of the UK. London ended up underneath the Lake District! I feel this ignorance is compounded by dependence on SatNavs but I regret to say, I am sure it is now irreversible.

Mike says:
22 July 2011

For severalyears I thought the idea of a SatNav futile as I am more than capable of finding my way around without. I’m 53 so had to learn to usea map having started driving at 17. However a couple of years ago my wife and I did purchase one as a joint anniversary present. I have found it useful for directions but on several occassions have had to use a map to get me to some out of the way places that SatNav could only get me near to. Yes they are good, but not a complete replacement formaps anddirection signs


While I do not, yet, have a sat-nav but I have travelled as passenger in unfamiliar surrounding using one and I can certainly see their merit – indeed one unpleasant very late night search for a hotel in a foreign city would have been avoided if a sat nav had been available in the hire-car.
Possibly more relevant, I regard myself as an experienced map reader both in a car or on foot in the countryside, but have been surprised how useful I have found a smartphone app which provides me with 1:25000 maps of the countryside along with GPS facilities for use when walking. And, at a price, you can download the relevant map when it is required unexpectedly. We should not mock new technology, but use it sensibly and, if possible, try not to be totally reliant on it.

alan dickson says:
6 August 2011

Sat-Navs became “essential” when motoring writers ( generally youngsters) in magazines such as Autocar insisted that, if your new car didn’t have one, you could never sell it!! -rubbish. (same thing with leather upholstery)
A friend purchased a 3 year old Car with Sat-Nav. On the first trip on which he eventually mastered its use, he got part way home correctly but wrong directions thereafter. He can’t now trust it.


We probably could (and did) ‘manage’ without a Sat Nav, but should we settle for ‘managing’. People ‘managed’ without Sky+ and the Internet but surely we should look for more in life than just ‘managing.’ I first used a Sat Nav a couple of years ago, i found them incredibly useful for getting around towns i didnt know, i know it wouldve taken me 5 hours to find the place which the Sat Nav got me to inside 30 minutes. On motorways and main roads, its pretty self explanatory where to go, i dont think you need them so much there. But no matter how useful they are you should still look out of your car, at things. Alot of the ‘use diversion not sat nav’ signs are there because the diversion takes you more miles than you need to go (which your Sat Nav would know) but its in place to stop traffic roaring through sleepy villages which your Sat Nav would tell you to do to save time and fuel.

Miss R says:
7 January 2012

I have to say I really don’t like using a sat nav. I have a really good sense of direction for not using one and generally if i go somewhere once i can get myself there again. I love getting lost and finding my way back as it gives me more knowledge of the roads. I find that people with sat navs do not pay attention to the road signs and as a result make last minute decisions that are dangerous on occasions. I have also found from working in the fleet industry that when you suggest to someone that uses sat nav religiously to use a map when it stops working, you get your head bitten off. It is amazing how people have become so reliant on them


Comments here show a lot of varied experiences with road navigation – and these have fuelled attitudes towards sat-navs.

I am a geographer and love maps – I wouldn’t take a major fresh journey without consulting one. I also use a sat-nav. I also use road signs – I’ve been taught good observation in advanced driver training. And I also use my eyes and common sense. All of these add up together to a safer and more interesting journey. None of them alone is either safe or useful, as many others here have pointed out.

The point is, that people us what’s available to navigate, as well as what they’re comfortable with – there are skills needed for any kind of navigation. But it’s combining several methods that work best.


I don’t own a SatNav, have managed 39 years of driving without one, and would not need one to get from town to town within the UK or abroad. However, whilst driving recently in Germany I had to get a windscreen replaced. Our hosts did have a SatNav, and this was able to guide them and me directly to the garage even though nobody knew the street in the town concerned. I appreciate that I could have gone on line and printed off a map from Google maps (or similar), but the SatNav did help in this instance. Mind you, a bit of research, plus half a sheet of A4 written directions to follow, and I didn’t need to even refer to a map to get home (from Bayreuth, Bavaria) – reference to my notes, road signs, and a basic sense of direction was sufficient. I am, though, thinking about getting one for a motor bike – it is not as easy to read a map whilst riding a bike.


Yes, Malcolm, me too (driving for countless years, etc), but that doesn’t diminish the value of sat nav. I can look at an OS 1;50,000 or 1:25,000 OS map, form a picture of it in my head, and drive from A to B. But that doesn’t help me find the nearest ATM, filling station, etc. Nor will it tell me where to be alert for speed cameras. And, on a long journey, I won’t necessarily be able to pick out the shortest or fastest route (I thought I could but now know I was sometimes wrong, even in my local area); sure, google maps will tell me, but I may not have google maps in front of me, may not have a detailed map, may not have time to research the journey. On a recent cruise, I rented cars in a number of ports in Croatia, Greece and Turkey; sat nav (TomTom on my iPhone, hence highly portable) made it so very easy to find my may to Olympia, Mycenae, Ephesus, etc. I love maps and wouldn’t be without them for anything, but nor would I be without sat nav (just as, while I can fix a shelf to a wall with hand tools, I wouldn’t be without my electric drill).


I agree with you, Malcolm. But when you have no competent navigator, the satnav – used wisely – adds to the ease of getting around and makes it safer, too.


Maybe map reading should be a part of the driving test.

Sadly far far too many drivers do NOT use the sat nav wisely.that is why there are sat nav induced crashes.