Led astray by GPS

June 19, 2013

Ah the now-ubiquitous global position system or “GPS” as everyone calls it – a combination of technologies whereby satellites and often cell phone networks pinpoint the location of a vehicle, then inputs said location into a software program in order to ultimately provides drivers with directions; no thumbing of paper maps required.

Yet technology is not so perfect, nor so foolproof, that it never sends folks in the wrong direction to the wrong place from time to time.

Take for example a recent survey Harris Interactive conducted for Michelin back in April among 2,232 U.S. drivers aged 18 and older. That poll found that 63% who had used GPS said the technology led them astray at least once by pointing them in the wrong direction, or by creating complex, confusing and incorrect routes.

Indeed, according to Michelin’s survey, drivers who use GPS said it has taken them off track an average of 4.4 times; a number that’s even higher among younger adults age 18-34, who have been directed astray 6.3 times on average by GPS, the poll discerned. Then there are the 7% of those GPS-reliant drivers who found themselves misdirected more than 10 times.

Perhaps as a result, paper maps are not quite the relics many make them out to be. While GPS is the travel aid relied on by 30% of those polled who travel to unfamiliar locations, it ranks second to a combination of physical resources that include maps, printed directions, atlases and guide books. Together, those physical resources are relied on primarily by nearly 40% of Americans who travel to unfamiliar destinations, Michelin said.

In keeping with those findings, and despite today's high-tech world, Michelin added that nearly half (46%) of those drivers polled who own vehicles said they still keep physical maps, including road maps and atlases, in them.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, those aged 55 and over (57%) are more likely than those in any other age group to carry maps or atlases. Among drivers aged 45-54, the number is 44%, while for drivers aged 35-44 it is 39%, and even with young drivers aged 18-34 over a third (34%) said they keep a map or atlas in their vehicles, Michelin reported.

The company’s survey also found that male drivers in the U.S. are more likely to primarily use GPS than women when traveling to new places—35% compared to 26%, respectively.

Geographically, the use of GPS as a primary guide is most popular in the Northeast part of the U.S. with 35%of drivers using it to help them navigate when travelling to unfamiliar places; on the other end of the spectrum, just 25% of drivers in the West rely primarily on GPS.

Other means of travel aids cited in the survey include a smart phone or tablet device (19%), with a small segment of the driver respondent pool (6%) noting they rely on verbal directions from locals familiar with an area.

[Then there’s the surprising 3% that admit to relying on nothing at all to find their way around unfamiliar locations. Not sure I’d want to go on a long trip with one of them!]

Tell you one thing: with a paper map, you know the battery will never die on you. Nor will it talk to you, either; something I still cannot get used to in this ever more digital age we live in. 

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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