COLUMBUS, Ohio - Used to be, Dad would stuff a half-dozen maps in the glove box before setting out with the family on a road trip to see the waterfalls at Yosemite or the granite faces of Mount Rushmore.
Colorful maps bearing the logos of the oil companies that printed them - names like Texaco, Gulf, Esso - brimmed from displays at filling stations, free for the taking.
But of the more than 35 million Americans expected to travel by car this Fourth of July, a good chunk will probably reach for technology before they're tempted to unfold - and, in a tradition that used to bind Americans as tightly as a highway cloverleaf, try to refold - a paper road map.
Websites like MapQuest and Google Maps simplified trip planning. Affordable GPS devices and built-in navigation on smartphones downright transformed it.
The drop in sales began around 2003, when affordable GPS units became a go-to Christmas present, said Pat Carrier, former owner of a travel bookstore in Cambridge, Mass.
"Suddenly, everyone was buying a Garmin or a TomTom," he said. "That's the year I thought, 'Oh, it's finally happened.' "
Transportation departments around the country are in the middle of reprioritizing their spending amid falling revenue, and paper maps could be on the chopping block, said Bob Cullen, spokesman for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
In Georgia, officials are printing less than half of what they printed a decade ago. Washington state discontinued maps altogether by 2009. But in Missouri, Connecticut, Mississippi, Nebraska and other states, officials say printing has remained steady.
It's unclear why some states are affected more than others.
Free roadside maps boomed between the 1920s and 1970s as major highways were being built.
Members of AAA, whose services are fully integrated online and include a TripTik mobile app, requested more than 14 million paper guides in 2010, spokeswoman Heather Hunter said. The number of maps AAA prints has declined, but she would not say how much.
Rand McNally is known for its road atlases but also offers an interactive travel website and GPS devices; it declined say how many maps it's printing these days.
Charlie Regan, who runs the maps division for National Geographic, said the company has sold more paper map products in the past three years than it has ever sold since launching the division in 1915. He attributed it to customers learning to appreciate good map data - and he said sales of international maps have remained consistent, and sales of recreational hiking maps are on the rise.
At a glance
• The old days: Colorful road maps bearing the logos of the oil companies that printed them - names like Texaco, Gulf, Esso - once brimmed from displays at filling stations, free for the taking.
• These days: Websites like MapQuest and Google Maps simplify trip planning. Affordable GPS devices and built-in navigation on smartphones downright transformed it.
• Fallout: Transportation agencies around the country are noticing, printing fewer maps to cut department costs or just acknowledging that public demand is down.
Source: The Associated Press.