The Royal Academy of Engineering has today warned that our society “may already be dangerously over-reliant on sat-nav systems”, in a report that makes for fascinating reading. It actually focuses on infrastructure – debating whether either natural or man-made jams to the system could cause widespread upheaval – but it got me thinking about how we motorcaravanners depend (or otherwise) on GPS in our ’vans.
These days, most of us have a sat-nav to assist us when we’re out and about on the road, but just how dependent are we on them? We’ve all heard horror stories of errant motorists determinedly pressing on along railway lines or one-way streets, who – when stopped – are quick to blame their sat-nav. But I think that motorcaravanners are, in general, more aware of their surroundings than many other motorists; we need to be, to avoid destroying overcabs on height barriers or becoming firmly wedged down a narrow country lane. We don’t necessarily need sat-navs to help us choose a suitable road; we just use them to find the best road.
In truth, I think I depend on my GPS rather too much. This was brought to my attention when I met my partner; while I’ll happily plug a postcode into the sat-nav and follow its instructions more or less to the letter, he’ll get the road map out, plan a route (often using highlighter pens) and then take it, using the sat-nav as a back-up just in case. It’s an interesting approach and not one that’s entirely unsuccessful: his route – which takes longer to plot – very often saves us time in the long-run, by allowing us to avoid potential traffic bottlenecks that the sat-nav simply can’t identify.
It was a point also brought home to me when, out on work business in Dudley a few years back, my sat-nav suddenly died. Fortunately I had a map with me, but upon opening it I realised that I didn’t actually know where I was; I’d been so blindly following the spoken directions that I’d been ignoring road signs. It took a phone call to my destination to work out exactly where in the locale I’d been stranded.
So I think that the engineers at the Royal Academy are correct: we are becoming over-reliant on sat-nav. I’m trying hard to adopt my partner’s approach; it seems to me the best compromise between map and machine. What do you think?
Sarah Wakely, deputy editor