Using a sat nav safely

Top tips to stay safe when using satellite navigation in your vehicle

5 minute read

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Originally developed for the military, satellite navigation is now a common feature in many cars. But is it an essential aid to finding your way round, or a dangerous distraction?

Find out how to stay safe on the road with our sat nav safety dos and don'ts.


Originally developed for the military, satellite navigation is now a common feature in many cars

Your sat nav - help or hindrance?

Many of us would (literally!) be lost without our sat nav. We've come to rely on them so much that we sometimes follow their instruction without question.

A quick search of the internet reveals numerous stories about drivers getting stuck down country lanes or steering into a river because the sat nav told them to. It easy to think that the sat nav knows best even when your own eyes are telling you that you're going in the wrong direction.


Testing technology

Of course, using your sat nav correctly is still much safer than trying to read a printed map as you drive along. In fact, sat navs are now such a part of our daily driving that they've been included in the driving test since December 2017. 

Most driving test candidates are now asked to follow directions from a sat nav. The examiner sets up a route and the candidates follow the instructions. Thankfully it doesn't matter if you go wrong, as long as you drive safely.

To help you stay safe, we've put together these sat nav safety dos and don'ts.


Sat nav safety dos and don'ts

  • Do remember that you're the one in charge of the car. If you have an accident or get caught speeding, you can't blame the sat nav.
  • Do attach your sat nav where you can see it without taking your eyes off the road. But don't block your view of the road. The Highway Code says that windscreens must be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision. 
  • Do programme your destination before you set out. Never try to re-programme your sat nav as you're driving along. Either pull over somewhere safe or change direction and let the sat nav reconfigure itself.
  • Don't blindly follow the sat nav instructions. Look around you and respond to what's happening in real life. If in doubt, stop and check your route on a printed map.
  • Do choose your route carefully. Many sat navs are pre-set with the 'fastest route' option, which is often better than the 'shortest route' which can take you on back roads or cross country rather than staying on the main roads.
  • Don't turn off the voice instructions. However annoying the voice instructions get, they're still less distracting than constantly looking at the map for guidance.
  • Do keep your maps updated. Up to date maps will give you the best route options and mean that you're less likely to get lost when the old map on your sat nav doesn't recognise the new road.
  • Do remember not to get distracted by your phone if it's doubling as your sat nav. Try turning off notifications while you're driving. 
  • Don't leave your portable sat nav in your car. It's very tempting for a thief to smash a window and grab your sat nav if they can see it stuck to the windscreen. However, if you do have your sat nav stolen you may be able to claim on your car insurance.

Using your mobile phone as a sat nav

The law clearly states that it's illegal to use a hand-held phone in the car. Even in stationary traffic. So, is it possible to use your mobile phone as a sat nav?

Yes, as long as you have hands-free access and are able to stay in control of your car you can use your phone as a sat nav. Hands-free access means using a bluetooth headset, a dashboard holder or voice commands.

So, just like using a sat nav, programme your destination into your phone before you set off. Then place the phone in a dashboard holder so you can see the map and hear the instructions.

If you want to change the destination, you can use voice commands, but you can't touch the phone. If you need to touch the phone, pull over and park somewhere safe. You can get six penalty points and a fine of £200 if you use a hand-held phone while driving.

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All content is approved by our in-house advisory board of experts.