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Has GPS Changed Our Driving Skills?

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 8 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Gps Gps Navigation Gps Systems Satellite

Do you remember when travelling somewhere by car involved looking at maps and signposts and remembering which turnoff to which road you needed? You should – it’s not that long ago that we all needed maps and road atlases as navigation aids. Of course, we got lost and stopped to ask for directions, which might or might not be useful, but we reached our destinations in the end.

These days, road atlases still sell well, but they mostly end up gathering dust on a car’s parcel shelf or on the back seat. Many of them are never opened at all. It’s not because we’ve suddenly become better drivers with unerring senses of direction. It’s all down to GPS.

What Is GPS?

GPS stands for Global Position System, which uses satellites to pinpoint your car’s position exactly and guide it along routes programmed into the GPS system to guide you where you want to do. Since its commercial introduction just a few years ago GPS navigation has become big business. These days driving and satellite navigation (GPS systems are often referred to as SatNav) go hand in hand.

GPS systems come in several forms. You can buy a unit and attach it to the dash or windscreen, or it’s on a number of mobile phones. There are small handheld GPS systems, about the size of a mobile phone, that are popular with hikers, and these days more or more cars have GPS fitted as standard in the dashboard console.

You simply programme in the address you want, then the system guides you, a voice telling when and where to turn until – in theory, at least – you arrive. There’s a small learning curve involved in using GPS, and it can be disconcerting receiving instructions from a synthesised voice whilst driving, but satellite navigation has become commonplace now.

The Advantages Of GPS

GPS does make driving easier. There’s no need to stop and consult a map. If roadworks leave one route closed, GPS systems can guide you a different way, working smoothly. GPS navigation can calculate the fastest way to your destination (even if it can’t help you find a parking space once you arrive!). A lot of people, especially those who always had problems with maps, swear by them and wouldn’t leave home without a GPS system in their car.

As the roads become more and more crowded, they do offer advantages in plotting routes, which is always better than sitting in traffic jams, and for many, simply having to follow instructions makes driving a far less stressful experience.

But it’s not always perfect.

The Disadvantages of GPS

GPS isn’t perfect. We’ve all seen or read stories of people who’ve followed instructions from their GPS system only to find themselves on roads to nowhere or stuck in a country stream. They’ve simply done as they’ve been told and blindly followed orders.

That, really, is the problem. GPS works well most of the time, so we accept that it’s always right. We pay no attention to our surroundings or use our brains to suspect something might be amiss and we need to rethink.

GPS can be useful, but if we follow it without question, all we’re doing is ceding the control of our driving, and that’s never a good thing. Driving demands alertness, especially with so many cars around. You don’t just need to be aware of other vehicles, but where you are on the road. By obeying GPS without question, we’re in danger of turning into automatons behind the wheel, going where we’re told when we’re told.

Like any tool, GPS is good – when used properly. Allow it to guide you, but remember, you don’t need to let it make every decision for you. You need to keep control. Sometimes there’s a better way than GPS.

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