/ Motoring, Technology

Do we rely on our sat navs too much?

Sat nav in tunnel

Has your sat nav ever guided you into the middle of nowhere, or worse, a crash? Would you care to admit that you were following your sat nav just a little bit too closely?

A report published this week by the Royal Academy of Engineering says that society may be dangerously over-reliant on GPS satellite navigation systems.

Not only can GPS fail completely, it can suffer from accidental interference, or even be deliberately and maliciously jammed.

This suggests that non-satellite back-ups are often absent or inadequate, which could have a major impact on the many industries that use sat navs. Aviation, shipping and the emergency services are just three of these industries.

What’s your GPS back-up?

I know that large aircraft have an array of navigation devices in the cockpit, of which GPS is just one. But when we’re driving our cars, what’s our back-up when our sat nav fails?

In my case, it’s an up-to-date road atlas in the boot of the car. I also feel that my childhood fascination of maps and road signs has probably helped me develop some decent navigation skills. And no, I’ve never followed the stars, but yes, I have sometimes got completely lost.

This built-in skill and experience is something younger drivers may lack – many of them will have relied purely on sat navs for their in-car navigation.

Common sense of direction

A quick trawl of the internet reveals stories of accidents, near misses and drivers going up one-way streets due to blindly following their sat nav. The statistics are startling, but some of the stories also raise a smile – google ‘sat nav blunders’ for example. Most point to a temporary loss of common sense.

This shows that sat navs are a great tool to take the hassle out of driving, but common sense and a good back-up plan should always be in tow.


I have never had much of a sense of direction, so I find my sat nav useful. I still look at maps and use route planners.

Knowiing that the sat nav is far from perfect I would not fall into the trap of going the wrong way in a one-way system, though following passengers’ instructions has caused me to do this several times.

I’m well aware that my sat nav does not necessarily choose the best route, but if I’m lost I can follow the instructions without getting stressed. Having to keep finding somewhere to stop and look at a map is stressful and there is the temptation to glance at the map when driving, which is dangerous.


I have a Sat Nav – but never use it – A complete waste of £300. I rarely drive on strange long journeys

It is easier to use a paper map because I start at the beginning of the journey with my home page and turn pages as I progress to my destination – I run through the route before I start. Very easy and so cheap.

I thought you were a good driver? I’m not sure turning the pages of a map whilst driving is entirely legal. You may want to check the Highway Code as i may be wrong on this matter.

Like other gadgetry, it’s best to try products before purchase. I used a friend’s sat nav as a passenger on several car journeys. It showed me that the technology was good enough to be useful to me. It also helped me realise that it would be better to buy one with a larger screen than the basic model I experimented with.

What I did not discover until after purchase was that my sat nav would guide me through town centres than round ring roads. Then I found out that if I had spent more, I could have bought a more advanced model. I can understand why anyone with a decent sense of direction and a road map does not really need a sat nav.

If you really don’t use your £300 sat nav, give it to someone with a poor sense of direction. I’m not the only one with this problem.

I did one better I sold it to a friend at half price – Now he doesn’t use it either.

Richard. You said that you have a sat nav which you do not use. Within 24 hours you report that you have sold it to a friend, who does not use it. Give him another day and he might. We don’t all have a good sense of direction.

I’ve stated before how much I love maps (I even did cartography as my main degree, how sad is that?!) and have a HUGE collection of maps and atlases. I much prefer reading a map in the comfort of my home, on holiday, or out walking. I can roughly picture the lie of a land using contours and make a rough guess on how old an area is simply by looking at the street pattern. I am not a huge fan of electronic maps – I was so fed up with Google I sent them a huge review with a long list of suggested improvements some of which they now seem to have taken on board! Still plenty of room for improvement.

So it was a momentous decision in my family when I finally made my purchase which was a source of endless, apparently rib-tickling, humour for many months after. Oh, how they chortled. Map Boy had bought a Sat Nav. But not any old sat nav…

You see, when it comes to DRIVING, maps aren’t a perfect aid. They don’t often tell you which roads are busy at certain times of the day or certain days of the week or tell you where there is an accident and give you an immediate option to take an alternative route with an up-to-date and up-to-the-minute ETA. You can’t zoom into a map to find out where the nearest supermarket petrol station is or the location of a nearby cash-point down a side alley or the location of the nearest free wi-fi spot. With voice-recognition and bluetooth navigation is a breeze. A map doesn’t give you turn-by-turn navigation or tell you which lane you need to be in well in advance of a junction in a city centre at rush-hour (and neither do the hopeless road signs put up by the local council) and even the most detailed road atlases won’t tell you about one-way systems in the smallest market town in the back of beyond. It will even tell which mini-roundabouts I can cut corners off… :). And how else do you get the maps of the whole of Western Europe into an object a few inches across and less than an inch deep?

****, I’ve even customised mine so that it gives me the 1:50000 OS map road symbols making those on my display blue, green, magenta, orange, yellow and white.

I have yet to be led down a cliff or into a lake. Like the majority of road users, I do have some common sense. And I love my TomTom. Forget any of the others for cartographic appeal. Garmin, Mio, what are you thinking?! As for Binatone… what person of any sane mind or possessing even an ounce of intelligence would ever buy anything made by Binatone?!

If people want to keep stopping to use their maps in unfamiliar areas that is entirely their decision. If people are happy to place their faith in road signs put up by fat men in fluorescent jackets called Frank that is entirely up to them. Personally, I like to get ahead.

That said, I do miss those days of getting lost with the OH in the rain 🙂

Yes we do rely on sat navs too much, I especially love the stories of people driving into lakes because “their sat nav told them to” 🙂

Having worked for TomTom, the technology has so many flaws its unbelieveable. Perhaps not surprisingly TomToms work best in Holland (where they are based).

I own a Garmin, read into that what you will, but I barely use it. I have a good sense of direction, am interested in and like reading maps (quite sad yes) and when I have the time, I don’t mind getting lost because I always like to discover places I have never been before.

Best for business use, road trips across europe and visits to new places. TomTom were advocating using their PNDs for every day use when I was there. Why on earth would I want to plug in all those wires when I know exactly where I want to go and I will arrive in 15 – 30 minutes?

Dean, I’d like to know what those flaws are if you don’t mind sharing. I don’t think any system is ever going to be perfect unless a. the technology and infrastructure exists to record, transmit and receive real-time traffic flow and b. such technology is available at an affordable price.

I don’t use my TomTom so much for telling me what route to take. I use it more to tell me about incidents on my route (using the RDS-TMC receiver), what the delay is like (so I can decide to stop at a service area if necessary instead of sitting in the queue), and what alternative route there is. All voice controlled – I don’t need to flip open a map and read it whilst moving (extremely dangerous and not at all advisable – ever). You can’t stop on the hard shoulder (to check the map) either – except in an emergency (or that’s what I’ve been told).

A sat nav acts as a voice-controlled map. The IQ routes system is great – different routes depending on times of day, even avoiding hold ups at T junctions because the sat nav knows that road will be busy at 4pm on a saturday afternoon, etc.

Sometimes I have cursed it for taking me out of my way as I’m known amongst friends to have an incredible sense of direction and location. But I have to say it has NEVER let me down! I’ve held my hands up – every time. Once it took me off a free-flowing M5 – I obeyed its instructions (whilst ****** and j******) only to pass under and over the M5 to see traffic at a complete halt. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.

Of course, I don’t use it on roads I use regularly – I use my own experience and local knowledge for that. And when it comes to driving lateral thinking helps you get along and leave the rest behind and you can achieve this without being discourteous to other drivers. Experienced drivers will know what I mean. I am not going to print the tricks I use here because the whole system relies on as few people as possible knowing them!

Unless you’re a type of person who likes sitting in traffic wasting time, fuel and money a sat nav is a godsend. I’m not one of those people. People who don’t like sat navs are the same people who rubber-neck at accidents and point at aeroplanes. Each to their own.

I have had a Garmin for well over a year now and would make the following observations.

It is not as good as their marine products, I use both their GPS and chartplotters and have been very impressed by them, simpler data perhaps on those products but more safety critical.

Like my marine use I also carry a large scale up to date map with me.

Absolutely indispensable for the last couple of miles of a journey to a specific address I have not been to before.

Not so good for long distance journeys, with or without traffic information. Here is a for instance, I had to go from Scarborough to Chelford in Cheshire the other day, so M62, M60 etc, but set on fastest route It wanted me to turn off the M62 before I got to the M60 junction to follow the M627/A62 and back onto the M60, faster at 3am but not at 9am!

On the shortest route setting it has me doing some hilarious things, like south of the Humber Bridge on the A15 it takes me off the A15 up the slip road and back onto the A15 again, at that point the A15 sweeps round to the left so it probably is shorter by 50 metres or so, but presumably the mapping algorithm is not quite clever enough!

The only real problem with GPS is becoming too reliant on them, to the point where you blindly follow them without reading road signs etc, like all new technologies they have strengths and weaknesses, they are an indispensable addition to a map, useful for navigating complex motorway junctions etc but they will never completely replace paper maps, just as Kindles won’t replace books, or the internet/TV replace newspapers.

If you don’t have a good sense of direction, may I suggest setting your GPS to North up for navigation, then you will at least have an idea as to whether you are going in the right direction.

Bobbio says:
18 March 2011

I changed my old Navman for a new Garmin and regretted it as soon as I disovered that the Garmin does not tell you road numbers (except for Motorways). It tells you road names instead. I prefer to be told to ‘Turn right onto the A4147’ but the Garmin tells me to ‘Turn right onto Bluehouse Hill’ I can easily see the A4147 sign but I can’t always find the Bluehouse Hill sign. Why don’t they program the Sat Navs to follow road numbers?

My project was the TomTom XL, it was………. 40% slower than the model it replaced, the TomTom OneXL. In standard performance tests (route calculation, recalculation) it was in some cases 50% slower than the OneXL.

This is just one issue, most people won’t notice that it is slower than the old model because they probably didn’t have the old model. This was fine for the business.

In my opinion, if you want the best and most reliable sat nav, buy an old TomTom, Go710, OneXL etc. Why? because all the components are of much higher quality than what they currently use. Every new TomTom by design, has cheaper components, cheaper plastics and has to run more code.

Fat Sam, Glad to hear you get accurate TMC information, the reason TomTom created HD traffic was because this was so unreliable and wasn’t making enough money from subscription content. HD traffic is certainly incredibly accurate, but I don’t use it enough to pay for it.

Chris, the only voice I need in the car is my own, whilst singing along to music. I find the interrupting satnav voice really annoying, especially when a song is reaching a crescendo with massive drum solo! 🙂

I drive with a Garmin (admittedly the maps are now a few years old but I still manage), I find it indispensible. I drive around the UK and Europe (in hire cars but take sat nav with me). Before sat nav I used to sit the night before I went anywhere for up to 2 hours printing maps out. I don’t need to do that anymore. It also has a traffic link that works reasonably well.

From memory it has never led me into a dangerous situation, but its all about common sense and also being aware of what you’re doing and actually looking at the signs around you, it has once or twice had me on some single track roads, but on the whole I wouldn’t do without it. I also don’t use the voice just watch the screen.

If it went off I think I have a reasonable enough sense of direction to get me where I want with the aid of normal road signs.

benniesmum says:
13 July 2011

I used to follow my satnav blindly, and have gone down more single track roads than I care to think about!

It is still useful however, to check where I am on an unfamiliar journey, navigating through unfamiliar one-way systems, giving me an idea of how long I still way on my journey or to check for speed cameras. It’s also company at night on a long journey!

I still check a map before I go, and ignore satnav instructions that don’t make sense – it recalculates without complaint – unlike my husband!

David Harvey says:
18 July 2015

Would never have a sat nav, completely useless ! Only for people who dont know where they are going and cant read maps !

Useful for finding a specific address – not a facility provided by maps (unless you have A-Zs covering the country). Also saves time if you have to deviate from your planned route – saves stopping to use your map again. And map reading is not easy or safe if you are the sole occupant – unless you have somewhere to stop. Used sensibly, and often checked against a map, I’d suggest they are both useful and more convenient than maps.