Pin Me

GPS Overdependence

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 1/19/2010

GPS is increasingly ubiquitous in today's society, from tracking children's cell phones to navigating while driving to mountaineering to aviation. As with all oft-used technology, the question arises: are we becoming too dependent on them? This article explains some of the potential issues.

  • slide 1 of 4

    Accidents Happen

    There are many drivers that may be accused of paying more attention to the navigation device than the actual road. While it tells them exactly where to turn and such, it's still nothing to the human eye: it may be telling you to turn in 25 feet, but by the time you look up from the map, or finish listening to its computerized voice, have you run a red light? Missed your turn and come to a screeching stop? As a driver, it is your responsibility to have your eyes on the road, and not on the LCD screen.

  • slide 2 of 4

    Common Sense versus GPS

    People are quite trusting of their car GPS devices. You punch in a destination, it tells you where to go. However, it doesn't always tell you the best way to get there. No database accounts for all variables that may effect the safety of your drive. Issues that have been noted to occur include weather conditions on roads not meant for winter travel, and use of roads that simply were not meant for car traffic.

    Example: a GPS directing a car over a mountain pass on a narrow Forest Service road with winter snow conditions, where common sense would have dictated using a much safer route. The couple survived three days trapped in these conditions.

    Another story: when a bridge got washed out in Luckington, UK, locals put many warning signs indicating this on the road leading to it. However, GPS units continue to tell people to follow the road. People are more inclined to trust their GPS unit than their own eyes. As a result, locals have been pulling out an average of two cars a day out of the river.

    While such stories are not endemic, they appear often enough on the news to be some cause for concern. GPS is increasingly being used as a replacement to old fashioned common sense, but no navigation device is a complete replacement for the human brain, at least quite yet.

  • slide 3 of 4

    GPS System Breakdown

    People also tend to trust that their technology will never fail them, that batteries don't run out, that screens don't break, that software doesn't crash, that the signal just isn't strong enough. When this happens, and they don't know what to do without the technology, or don't have a back-up, problems may occur.

    For car drivers and other consumers, this is huge. The inability to use basic maps as a back up could spell dire consequences.

    There is a possibility for failure of the entire GPS system. While current GPS satellite deterioration does not appear to be a cause for alarm, the idea is there, and a worrying one.

  • slide 4 of 4


    While GPS is a marvelous technology, revolutionizing navigation in virtually every industry that it touches, from large corporate mass transportation to a family on a roadtrip. However, use of it must also be responsible, and one should also be competent in backup navigation technology—like those old paper road maps we all know and love.

    For an excellent piece on GPS overdependence, check out this article concerning a former FAA administrator's view, titled The Spreading GPS Virus.