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Sat navs and the Law

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Using your phone sat nav can cost you £200 and 6 points.
Using your phone sat nav can cost you £200 and 6 points.

You may still love your road maps and street atlases to find your way around when driving. Sooner or later you are going to find out how much easier it is to use a satellite navigation device. Many of us have used devices such as Tom Tom and Garmin over the years, or driven a car with a built-in navigation system. Now most mobile phones come with Google Maps pre-installed so sat navs are readily available whatever car you drive.

However, laws about using mobile phones while driving have been toughened up after a number of high profile fatal accidents caused by drivers distracted by using mobile phones at the wheel. This doesn’t just apply to phoning someone up or answering a call while driving – you can be caught out using a sat nav or mobile phone app as well.

Since March 2017 you can be pulled over and charged just for touching the screen of a phone while at the wheel. Even if you are stationary at the side of the road you are committing an offence unless the engine is switched off. If you are stuck in a traffic jam or waiting for the lights to change you can still be prosecuted if you are seen to be programming your satellite device.

And the sanctions aren’t trivial. You will be fined £200 and handed 6 penalty points if you are caught, double the previous penalties. If you passed your driving test during the previous 2 years you will lose your licence as well.

Does this apply to hands-free phones as well? Well, some say yes and some say no. It all boils down to whether you are considered to be “not in proper control” of your vehicle. That’s another offence, £100 fine and 3 points unless you take it to court when it’s £1,000 if you lose.

So how can you be safe and ensure you won’t be committing an offence by using your mobile phone navigation app?

Be sure to programme it with your destination before you leave home.  If you need to change the route during your journey, do so while stationary with the engine switched off. It’s best to avoid touching the phone again if you can help it, although one touch should be OK to accept or decline a faster route.

A hands free phone mount can help keep you on the right side of the Law.
A hands free phone mount can help keep you on the right side of the Law.

It’s also worth slotting your phone into a fixed holder so you can follow instructions without being distracted.  But here again you have to be careful. If you fix it to the windscreen and the Police consider your view is obstructed you can be in trouble. And check your speed.  Many sat nav devices show an incorrect speed limit. That’s no defence if you get caught going too fast.

You can get a handset holder that clips onto the air vents below the windscreen. And that should be OK.

But check your speed. Not all speed limits shown on satelite navigation sysyems are accurate. Get caught going too fast and you’ll still get charged.

Or to be absolutely safe, leave the phone in the glove box, and hook up that old Tom Tom again!

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