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For Better or Worse? 3 Ways GPS has Changed the Way We Drive

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 by | Filed Under: GPS, In The News, Uncategorized

If your vehicle is equipped with a GPS, chances are good it rescued you in a driving pickle once or twice. GPS devices can not only help us get to unfamiliar locations, it can also help us steer clear of unsafe neighborhoods and dangerous road conditions. With the calm and clear voice of GPS advising us how to get around in a new city, we will typically avoid going the wrong way and ending up on a dirt road that leads to nowhere.


A Compact Replacement for Bulky Maps

One of the most positive ways that GPS has impacted the way we drive is by eliminating the need for huge foldout maps. If you have ever tried to figure out how to get from point A to point B by unfolding a map the size the entire front windshield and squinting at the tiny dotted road lines and color coded highways, you know how challenging this can be. Even if you could determine which road to take, you then had the task of re-folding the map and somehow fitting it back into your glove box. In addition to the frustration, not everyone is blessed with an inherent ability to understand north versus south, which means the map might as well be printed in hieroglyphics.

For these folks, a GPS device is worth its weight in gold. By simply programming in where they are and where they want to go, the compact unit will do all of the directional thinking for them.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Many of us have become so dependent on our GPS devices, we have lost our natural ability to navigate. Those slick and shiny little units are essentially messing with something our brains are supposed to do. When we rely on our GPS to get us to where we need to go, we notice and remember less about our surroundings, which negatively impacts our spatial memories. Interestingly, the ability for GPS to expertly get us to where we are going also prevents us from learning how to think on the fly and learn from our mistakes.

If you miss a turn and have to figure out on your own how to get back on the right road, you will be a more engaged driver who is getting to know the area, as opposed to one that is merely following directions like a robot. A Boston Globe article cites a study that found that people who use GPS to navigate are so clueless about where they are driving, they will typically not notice if the device is erroneously telling them to circle around the same area multiple times.

How to Relearn Spatial Skills

In order to reduce dependence on your GPS and boost your spatial memory and ability to find your way around, it’s time to cut back on your dependence on the GPS. Take the unit out of your car for at least a few days each week and learn the layout of your city on your own terms. In order to refresh your memory about the rules of the road, visit a website like


Sometimes you might come up with a more efficient way to get to work than what GPS is advising; as City Lab notes, the devices are not infallible and they tend to select the most common way to go, which can lead to plenty of wasted time stuck in traffic. Use your own skills and a paper or online map to see if you can come up with another route that is faster.

~ David

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4 Responses to “For Better or Worse? 3 Ways GPS has Changed the Way We Drive”

  1. Kathie says:

    Most of the time I do check ahead to get the layout of where I’m going, even if I’m using my GPS. But one time I didn’t do that, and my GPS quit while I was in a newer suburb of my city, looking for the nearby outerbelt to get back home. I really panicked for a moment, though I knew I’d eventually find my way. Fortunately, the GPS came on again after a minute or so. But that taught me a lesson: get an updated map of my city and keep it in the car! Fortunately, I do keep my old GPS in the car, too, as backup, and could have used it if necessary. But I doubt if many people have a backup GPS. The old one works fine. The only reason I got a new one was because it was at least 5-6 years old and when I got a new car last year, I decided I should get a new GPS. Glad I did. I get much more information from the newer one. But I feel much more secure having a backup.

  2. Parker says:

    I don’t use my GPS unless I am traveling to a seldom visited unfamiliar location. I have both a new and an old GPS and I do take the old one as a backup on long trips. I also always keep a large U.S. Road Atlas, e.g. Rand McNally, AAA, etc. and a good magnetic compass in both my vehicles. I still will stop and ask directions on occasion from local folks. It helps keep the ol’ brain working and I can often get additional useful informaton, e.g. where the good restaurants are, where to buy grocery items, hardware, etc.
    When taking long trips, e.g., traveling out of state, I find a GPS most useful for getting back onto a major highway after exiting to find a place to eat or stay overnight. It may be that I have to take a rather lengthy “sidetrip” with many intersection turns to get to a hotel or restaurant – too many to easily remember. Or perhaps it is the dark of night, making landmarks practically useless. In those cases a GPS is absolutely invaluable!
    One thing I have found that is not so good about a GPS is the inability to easily program a specific route, i.e., if I know exactly what roads I want to travel to my destination, it is not easy to set a GPS to follow your prefered “path”. I have learned through trial and error to break long trips in to short segments when setting up my GPS. The main advantages of doing so are: First, the GPS can “plan” a route of a hundred miles or so in much less time than it can, say for example, a route of one thousand miles. Secondly, The shorter your route from point A to point B, the easier it is to program the GPS to use your prefered roads.

  3. Cliff Apple says:

    HI I like the idea of leaving the GPS at home sometimes so I am trying to figure out how to take it out of the dash. great story LOL

  4. George says:

    I’m fortunate to have 6 GPS. We have one in each car and one in our motor coach. One is a factory installed in Mercedes. It’s the worst. I’d never buy one factory installed in dash. Never as good as stand alone and most have far less features. I have an old one from 1990’s and it has the best information still. It’s just not as big or easy to use. Rand-McNally makes a big one for our coach and it has many features for using with big RV’s. I seldom use it for finding routes, except when coming into area I know nothing about. I don’t need GPS to find Florida from Michigan. I use it for finding distances, alternate routes or back roads. I really like to find out of way places and I use it for maps and POI. I have found many mistakes on GPS that cost me time and gas. One took friends on total wrong route from Michigan to Carolinas. Don’t depend on them entirely. Use your head and always know where “North” is located.

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