Only 9% of Teens Keep a Road Map in Their Car. Let’s Make That Number Higher.

As drivers increasingly rely on satellite navigation systems and smartphone apps for driving directions, paper maps and road atlases have fallen by the wayside.

A recent study by Cars on Demand found that 85% of people place more trust in electronic navigation devices and systems over maps, and almost half would just give up their journey if their navigation system broke. More shockingly, it found that only one in 10 young drivers keep a road map in their car.

So, what’s our take? This statistic should be much, much higher, and here are three reasons why:

  1. A road map’s battery can’t run out.
  2. Road maps don’t unexpectedly lose their service or signal.
  3. Road maps keep you aware of your surroundings, as opposed to a lone, screen-view shot of the road you’re on.

Obtaining a road map is a piece of cake: They’re inexpensive and easy to find online, and most gas stations and rest areas have them readily available, sometimes free of charge.

Here are our six steps to road map mastery.

1.   Find the Right Map

Maps and road atlases come in many sizes or “scales.” Some are designed to show an entire state or larger region and may only include major state routes and interstate highways. These are perfect for longer road trips through unfamiliar parts of the country, but they won’t be any help if you’re trying to navigate a city. Other maps are designed specifically for certain cities, metropolitan areas, or regions within a state. These are more detailed and helpful when navigating across town.

We recommend stocking your vehicle with three basic maps to get started:

  1. A comprehensive road atlas, like this one from Rand McNally. This atlas includes a map of every state and Canadian province, detailed maps of the 50 largest cities in North America, and a mileage chart showing the distance between many U.S. cities, and more.
  2. A detailed map of your home state.
  3. A detailed map of your hometown/city.

Be sure to keep your map collection updated, as new road construction and road changes happen frequently.

2.   Use the Legend and Scale

All road maps include a legend either toward the bottom of the map or on its back. The legend will explain what all the different road lines, colors, and symbols on the map mean. The more detailed the map, the more important it is to understand the legend and what it’s showing.

Maps also include a “scale,” often near the legend. The scale is a line-of-measurement graphic showing how distances on the map correspond to distances in the real world. Using the scale, it’s easy to estimate how far away your destination is, or how long you’ll need to drive on a given road before making a turn.

3.   Find the Compass Rose and Orient Yourself

Many road maps are laid out with north facing upward. But, this isn’t the case with all maps, so it’s important to consult a map’s compass rose to help you orient yourself. That way, you can rotate your map to face the direction you’re going, confirm you’re heading in the right direction, and begin to visualize your route.

4.   Consult the Index

Most detailed road maps include an index. This shows you where, on the map, you can find a certain city, road, or landmark, depending on the map’s scale. Often, maps are laid out with a grid pattern, with letters and numbers representing sections of the map. The index will list locations, landmarks, and roads with their corresponding grid location, showing you where to look.

Using the index, it’s easy to find your current location and your destination. From there, you can start planning your route.

5.   Plan Your Route

Once you’ve located your starting point and destination on a map, the next step is to connect the dots. Try to find the simplest route with the fewest turns. Think about avoiding major highways, intersections, and shopping centers during rush hour in the morning or evening. Use the map’s scale to estimate distances and set your car’s trip odometer to help you stay on track. Also pay attention to major intersections, parks, and landmarks noted on your map, as spotting these will help keep you headed in the right direction.

6.   Hit the Road

When navigating your route with passengers, it’s best to have someone follow your progress on the map, spotting landmarks, and alerting you to upcoming turns. If you’re driving alone, however, only consult your map before you set off; it is never OK to use a map while you’re driving. Distracted driving is a significant cause of accidents; in 2015, distracted driving caused 3,477 deaths and 391,000 injuries in the U.S. Instead, pull over, reorient yourself, find your current location on your map, and adjust your route accordingly.

If your cell phone or GPS device dies or stops working, a paper map or road atlas will save the day. It may take a little more time and effort to get to your destination, but you might be surprised how well they work and how easy they are to use.

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