September 06, 2011

GPS: Better on Foot than in the Car?

Getting ready for the first of two fall road trips, I won't be using a GPS, other than for a little geocaching at various destinations.

I can find Yellowstone National Park without a map. Just go north-northwest for two days until you hit it—either east of the Wind River Range or west.

This article from The New Atlantis discusses ways in which GPS makes people worse driver and navigators.
Aside from the growing mounds of anecdotal evidence, there is some research to support the idea that GPS navigation weakens driving ability, and that, as a 2008 review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put it, “the mere presence of a navigation system in a vehicle might encourage increasingly frequent and unnecessary use of the system, including browsing through lists of attractions.” However, most of this research only compares different types of navigation systems to each other (and to using a paper map during the actual act of driving); as of yet, there seems to be no research comparing GPS navigation to internalized navigation, nor are there any comprehensive statistical studies on the effects of GPS on accident rates. But one 2008 survey found that GPS devices had contributed to 300,000 crashes in the United Kingdom, and over a million drivers veering dangerously while following GPS directions. And a 2007 Dutch study found that GPS devices increased traffic accident casualties, and “purposely put the driver into a situation of unacceptable social behavior.”
But I mentioned geocaching.  This piece from the Durango Herald makes the case that it brings kids outdoors:
During the last three years, interest in “Trail Trekkers” – a children’s hiking program offered by Durango’s Parks and Recreation Department – had cratered. John Robinette, supervisor of youth recreation, was flummoxed
“When I started 10 years ago, the hiking program was really popular,” he said. “But then last year, almost no children signed up. We had to end it. It just wasn’t cost-effective.”

Through seminars and literature on continuing education in parks and recreation, Robinette learned about geocaching.

“I bought the starter kit, went to the website,” he said. “We decided to offer a six-week geocaching program for kids three days a week. Three of four sessions totally filled up.”
Robinette said the program had been a great success.

“Kids nowadays, they want a little bit more from the outdoors,” he said. “Some of them had their own GPS devices. We’re definitely going to offer it again next summer, and maybe this fall.” 
I admit to mixed feelings there—should you need the gadget?—but the old rule of teaching is that you have to start where your students mentally are.


Peculiar said...

Geocaching isn't my thing, but I think I can more or less see the appeal. It seems like a lot of outdoor hobbies in that it motivates you to get out there, it helps you choose among vast numbers of places to go, and it gets you to places you probably wouldn't think to visit otherwise. Geocaching, peakbagging, hunting, photography, mushrooming, they all let you interact with the landscape and see it in a way you wouldn't if you were simply out for a hike. (Though a simple hike without the ulterior motive is nice from time to time too.)

Janeen said...

One of my first jobs out of high school was searching for old section corners in the high desert of Eastern California. They gave me a sheaf of topo maps, a compass, a note pad and a couple of pencils and sent me on my way.

It was open country with long sight lines, lots of old fence lines and distinctive topography. A great place to learn to read maps and navigate by them. Those skills have served me well in the decades since.

My car has built in GPS and I have a hand held unit too. They're wonderfully handy adjuncts to navigation.

Relying on GPS to guide you to a location when you don't even have rudimentary navigational skills is truly a case of the blind leading the blind.

And P - the beauty of hikes without ulterior motives is one of the best reasons to have a dog!

Holly Heyser said...

This is one reason why we don't have a GPS - it's just one more device stripping us of our resourcefulness.

Could I use one in a pinch? Hell yes. When I'm on a freeway, there comes a time when I really want to know where the nearest Starbucks is. But other than that, I'm happy to consult maps.

Heather Houlahan said...

I'd like to see Geocaching programs like this one segue into teaching the kids map and compass navigation.

Bass-akwards to my old-school worldview, but whatever gets the job done.

You can geocache without a GPS if you learn your land nav skills and sharpen them up.

Eric said...

I agree about gps ruining people's navigating skills. Even the best gps units still make mistakes, especially in big cities. I learned how to read maps at an early age. The problem is it's becoming harder and harder to find paper maps. I remember when you could pull into any gas station and get a free map. Those days are long gone.