Has GPS Made Us Worse Drivers?

People like to text. They like to talk on the phone. They like to read. They like to listen to music. And they like to do all these things while driving.

Driving no longer is longer as much of a “privilege” as it used to be. Now, driving is commonplace and pretty much an essential life skill. Most everyone has a car, and car makers scramble to update their offerings every year to entice consumers. Automobile technology used to be centered around horsepower, all-wheel drive, and even fuel economy but now it’s all about integration. Integration of consumer technology and car technology. Not only can a car handle snowy terrain and avoid hydroplaning, it can also receive phone calls and connect to the internet. And the most popular of all, your car can give you directions.

GPS has made getting lost an anachronism. And while it’s great that we can all have turn by turn directions and a voice to guide us at all times, I believe that GPS and modern car technology are  contributing to a rise in bad driving and reckless drivers. Think about it: what did we have before GPS? We had maps. And with maps, we had to research the route before we left, and if by the unfortunate chance that we got lost, we had to stop on the side of the road to consult the map again or (gasp!) ask an innocent bystander for directions. Now, with GPS, we don’t have to research or even stop when we get lost. We just jump in the car, turn on the system, and are on our way.

How is this different? By blindly using the GPS, we have little idea what the driving route entails. We traipse into unfamiliar territory with little warning of upcoming turns and freeway exits. We become drivers intent on getting where we need to go, less intent on the safety of other drivers and less aware of cars around us. Also, reliance on GPS inhibits our sense of direction. Turning right and turning left aren’t the same as heading north and heading south.

In addition to GPS, new automobile amenities include Attention Assist (Mercedes-Benz) that will wake you up if you drift off, and blind spot detection, where a flashing light alerts you of cars hiding next to you. While all of these are great safety features, I can’t help imagining how they will impact a new generation of drivers. I think that these new features increase our ever-growing reliance on technology, which in this case of automobiles is a deadly trend. Cellular phones already make talking and texting while driving daily occurrences, though both are against the law in California. Will we also begin to be reluctant in looking over our shoulders and checking our mirrors? Will we not care if we are too sleepy to drive at night because the car will rouse us anyway? Car accidents already plague our commute every morning, and even without these new “smart” cars, people changes lanes without signaling and cut others off.

At the end of the day, people should remember that driving means that they are in control of a ton of metal on wheels, literally. Then I would have more faith in these new technologies. Like Phil Dunphy says: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

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