Road atlas versus sat nav

Road atlas versus sat nav


We all have a road atlas in the back of our cars and most drivers own a satellite navigation system, but what are the arguments for the road atlas versus sat nav? Until a few years ago, all drivers had to rely on was the traditional paper copy of the road atlas and this format certainly has its faithful supporters, but are there benefits to one system over the other or is owning both the way forwards?

Certainly, the younger generation have become familiar with new technologies and recent studies show that they are more likely to rely on a sat nav than to use a road atlas. However, research by the AA found that only 46% of older drivers have been lost in the past year, compared to 82% of drivers aged 18 to 24. Of course, this may be due to many factors but the over-reliance on electronic devices may well play a part in this.

So, will future generations of drivers find it difficult to navigate without a GPS? Research carried out in April 2011 by Dr Rosamund Langston, a scientist from the University of Dundee, has revealed that drivers are losing their natural sense of direction because they are too reliant on satnav systems. She claims that drivers who keep one eye on the satnav screen rather than looking for familiar signs and reminders are losing their innate ‘caveman’ ability to work out where they are. With geography in schools containing less teaching on map reading, two thirds of under 25s would literally be lost if you asked them to read a map, research has claimed.

To look at the benefits of a road atlas versus sat nav, a map will never run out of battery or lose its GPS signal at a crucial moment. With a paper atlas, a driver can plan a trip to take in local tourist sites on the way, rather than be talked from one destination to another with limited exposure to the surrounding landscape. How many times have you seen an interesting feature while on a journey and looked it up in the altas? Although convenient, the sat nav takes away a lot of the enjoyment of the journey itself. Cost-wise, a road atlas is a fraction of the cost of a sat nav, although it should be replaced annually.

There are many stories about inaccurate direction from sat nav devices – According to Edmund King, President of the AA, “Lost and disoriented motorists cause congestion on the roads and compromise safety as they struggle to find the right routes. Getting lost uses more fuel, add to congestion and can lead to road rage or passenger rage. “This study showing that 60% of drivers have been lost in the last year highlights the importance of having an up-to-date atlas to supplement whatever navigation methods you use”.

However, the sat nav offers a quick route back home at the end of a day with no need to have the atlas open on the passenger seat or a frustrated navigator providing instructions, which can be stressful. The route can be selected for the fastest, to improve fuel economy or avoiding motorways or tolls for a more leisurely trip. If you do go off track or miss a turn, the sat nav will find the way back to the original route. As long as it is updated regularly, a sat nav may provide more recent road schemes than a road atlas printed once a year. However, this relies on the user remembering to update it, which may be an additional expense.

One thing is certain; the technology cannot be undone and the road map versus sat nav argument is likely to continue; a GPS can lead to a stress-free journey but a road atlas can help plan an interesting trip. Perhaps the answer is to introduce planning with a road atlas to the driving test, to enable drivers to learn how to use this very valuable tool. One thing is certain, both methods will remain in use and having both is probably the best compromise.