/ 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?

David M says:
15 July 2011

Map reading skills are essential – for when we all become luddites.

Lionel says:
15 July 2011

The one inch Ordinance Survey map used to comprise fifty percent of the O level Geography paper. As well as the obvious location capability of a map it also provides a much needed perceptive on the countryside – should we be passing that hill/forest/railway etc? The scale on a satnav is not always clear. They work best together but obviously you cannot read a map while driving. A knowledge of map reading certainly helps to read a satnav map display.

Well said. I loved time spent with Ordnance (not Ordinance) Survey maps in geography lessons and now rarely go anywhere without an OS map. I always have my satnav with me though, usually using it in conjunction with maps when route planning.

David M says:
15 July 2011

On a more serious level: some people are natural map readers (I’m not), some can remember routes (I can’t), some have a good sense of direction (not me). I used to print a sheaf of directions and maps from Microsoft Autoroute prior to getting lost, and have driven down the M6 referring to laptop and Autoroute open beside me on the passenger seat…

Every time I went to Bath or Bristol I got lost. I’d have to phone my meeting contact for directions, and leave the phone open while I was talked in.

It’s true that, on routes you know well, a better route than that suggested by the satnav can often be found. Satnav users approaching my house from the west arrive white and shaking – they’ve been directed down a lane one would hesitate to drive a tank along. Overall, however, my life has been improved and my journeying revolutionised by buying one.

David says:
15 July 2011

I have to make a lot of visits to homes and find my satnav invaluable, especially in the winter when it can be difficult to read road names. I always back up with an A to Z and a road map in the car but it’s often the last little bit where the satnav comes into its own, not to mention being near the right house number on a long road

I have loved maps ever since I was introduced to O.S. maps at secondary school. We haven’t yet found the need for a satnav. I was shocked when a friends satnav told us to set off north when we should have been going south and then told us to do a u-turn in the road. That put us off a bit.

John Stanier says:
15 July 2011

As in many matters, it is not a case of either or, but both.

Learn to read a map and know your route, but a sat nav will cause less accidents whilst driving.

Kenneth Rust says:
15 July 2011

I was taught to read maps in the army and employed those skills in orienteering and during many thousands of miles in the UK driving on business in the rush hours as a civilian. I confess that many of those journeys which were often to new places would have been much less stressful with a sat nav to use (Yes, I have one). However I have noticed recently that I am using it when I don’t really need to, so I am applying more self discipline and I always have an up to date map in the car anyway.

I own an ‘old’ AA Satnav unit (no longer supported).
This unit enables me to see the route calculated which can be checked on a Map, if desired.
With regard to using for a ‘Mystery Tour’, you can select anywhere on the ‘Map Display’ just like sticking a pin in a Map.
Are the latest Satnavs devoid of these features – I wonder.
I am very much in favour of the Satnav and the ‘Walkers GPS’ unit (which I would never be without whilst walking in very remote places in the Peak District).

Daisy, satnavs – when you turn them off then on again – will often find that they’re ‘facing the wrong way’ and need a few seconds of movement to reorient themselves. So it’s sense to wait for this before paying attention to what they say and show.

I’ve been waiting for someone to say that it’s all the schools’ fault that people aren’t taught to use maps properly! Thanks, all – you didn’t! Looking back over 50 years of mapwork in Geography lessons, I can say that kids do more of this now than ever before, beginning at a younger age. And, as someone has said, it’s a great help to using the MAPS on a satnav screen properly. Most of you commenting have had a better maps learning experience than most, probably because you liked it or you got extra help – for higher-level geography at school, in cadets, guides or scouts, or for your job. That does give you an advantage over most. But as an ex-geography teacher, I’m a map fanatic and would never be without one.

Nevertheless I love my TomTom and rarely drive far without that either. They’re a great complement to each other and – as several have pointed out – have the same drawbacks if you follow them blindly. I find TomTom’s triple warning system for a turn a gem; I can concentrate on the road and just use my ears and a flick of a glance to the nav’s map even at a complex junction, and get it right. You find you’re past the point before the instruction? It’s usually because you’re driving too fast for the conditions!

It sounds like most of these comments are made by occasional sat-nav users.

i drive a lot for work and being able to just get in the car and stick a postcode in and go saves me a couple of hours a night printing out maps. Plus mine also does the traffic so it can also prevent me from being stuck somewhere.

I agree though you just can’t blindly follow its directions and you do need to keep your brain in gear as well as the car!

Jim Simpson says:
15 July 2011

I don’t trust sat navs any more, mine has got the destination wrong more times than it got them right, especially when I’ve got a caravan on the back.
I learnt to read maps when I was in the scout’s and after driving all over the country for 49 years if it’s not in my head I check the map.
I also have a very good sense of direction and used to tell the sat nav that it was wrong.

Buy a better satnav! They all make mistakes occasionally (it’s down to the quality of the mapping as well as the quality of the programming) but so do we all (often down to paper maps being less up-to date than satnav).

For what it’s worth, I’ve tried many satnavs, both PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices – dedicated satnavs) and apps on phones. In all cases, I’ve found TomTom and Navigon routing superior to most others, CoPilot perhaps the worst, although doubtless others will disagree. Overall, despite its undoubted failings, TomTom wins, for me.

Paul McCredie says:
16 July 2011

I have never been able to drive, so I tend to navigate whilst my wife does the driving. We use a combination of satnav and map. We plan routes before we set off, checking the satnav route and modifying it where necessary. Having a map available is useful for checking when we think the satnav may have got it wrong. We can also use the map to asses the wisdom of diverting off a route to avoid hold ups etc.
A sat nave is an aid to the navigator/driver and never the sole navigator. We wouldn’t dream of not having a map in the car – technology can fail.
Having a satnav available during unfamiliar journeys takes a lot of stress out the navigation, but should never be the sole guide to the route.
Incidentally as the passenger I’m able to change settings on the satnav thus leaving the driver free to concentrate on the driving.

Hugh Vintner says:
16 July 2011

Bought new Garmin form halford, cheaper than buyingupdate for existing garmin, Did 1200 mile trip to france and back . Takes the stress out of driving abroad ,.Only down dside some time have to wait for signal reply . But otherwise 8/10

I fully concur with the views; reading a map is a pleasure in itself, and to find one’s own way round obstructions/traffic is rewarding. Also with a map one can see what is around your chosen route and sites of interest – also, it ain’t difficult! One proviso; a satnav is useful as a street guide in towns where one is unused to the traffic and street layout, but only if your one-way system/street layout is up to date!

Alex says:
16 July 2011

Mainly we plan our journeys using a map and use the sat nav for the final few miles, if the destination is new to us, particularly if in the middle of a town or city. When towing we use a map, but the sat is useful for indicating lanes at major junctions etc. Again when towing, we track the sat nav route on the map, just in case it wants to take us down a single track road or over a 1 in 4 hill as we decline to purchase the over-expensive versions that allow you to enter the overall length and width of the car and caravan. Overall we notice and enjoy more of the features on our journeys with a map rather than when following the sat nav instructions in brain-dead mode.

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.

You should be thinking of ways that cut down the amount of driving you do to avoid waste of natural resources and money. Most people do occasionally get lost, so satnavs can save fuel and avoid congestion.

In the majority of cases, Sat. Navs. would seem to be “must have” expensive toys. Yes, they CAN be useful, when they do their job as one would want them to do. But so often they seem to want to “take over”. No, I would not want one. For years I have preferred to use a map. At least, I know where I am and what part of the world/country I am in.
No, I don’t think “Map Reading” should be part of the common curriculum at school – the curriculum is overloaded enough as it is. But I do think that anyone buying a car with the object of using it for more than shopping/school run trips should learn the elements of reading a map and be able to find where they are and where they are going to. And this applies to foreigfn travel. It makes journeys far more interesting knowing where you are, and what’s “round the corner”.
Sat Navs? NOT FOR ME!

>>> … two thirds of under-25s can’t read a map … <<<

They can't write without the aid of a computer, either. Shouldn't everyone be required to contribute to this Conversation in copperplate handwriting to maintain standards? I'm sure if Which? had been around at the time, the old salts could be having a lively debate about young sailors relying on sextants and chronometers. Technologies change, sometimes for the better.

I've been driving for over 40 years (IAM-trained with a clean licence) and sat nav unquestionably makes my driving safer on unfamiliar roads. No relying on instructions from a co-driver, who may be equally lost, no sudden lane changes, no going round the roundabout three times, trying to spot the right exit sign. No reason to take my eyes off the driver in front who is trying to map read and steer at the same time. I get advance warning of lane and road closures, with the opportunity to re-route and the ability to continue my journey in all weather conditions. (Have you tried reading finger posts at night in pouring rain?)

It also contributes to personal safety, as I have no need to stop in less than ideal circumstances to ask directions or take a furtive look at the map. And if I'm travelling abroad, I at least know how to pronounce the place names I'm travelling to. (Try asking for directions to "Reims" in France.)

I can still read a map and I take one with me but, like my fountain pen, I rarely use it these days.

paul says:
18 July 2011

I usually show the children the route and let them navigate.
I like looking at maps.
I don’t have a sat nav. I think we are getting too dependant on GPS, which is controlled by the US DoD and could be switched to reduced accuracy at any time for tactical reasons.
I can see that these devices would be useful to shows one’s locaiton, in lat. & long. or NGR. Can they do this?
When will we be able to buy sat. nav. receivers which use the European satellites?

Fred says:
18 July 2011

Not knowing how to use a map is like not knowing how to read and depending entirely on audio books. A few more reasons:

The batteries in maps never go flat
Maps don’t break when you drop them
A map can’t be turned off at the whim of the American government
No one will break into your car to steal a map
Maps don’t leave sucker marks on your windscreen giving away the fact there’s a map in the glovebox.
Maps don’t speak to you in irritating weird accents.
Maps are instant on, they don’t have to lock onto anything
Maps are not troubled by overhanging trees or tall buildings
A map will never tell you to turn around when possible when your doing 70 in the outside lane of a motorway.
A map will never send you on a hugely circuitous route which satnavs love to do

Yes, I use a sat nav, but there is always a map in the car to check the satnav’s not talking nonsense.