Drivers are creating a “significant” threat to road safety due to their careless use of satellite navigation systems, according to a leading breakdown service.
GEM Motoring Assist says that drivers’ ignorance of how to position sat nav units, along with the large size of many modern systems is leading to many motorists driving around with a badly obscured view of the road ahead.
With some large sat nav systems measuring as much as seven inches by four inches, there is the potential for a badly placed unit to significantly block a driver’s view. Not only does this pose a danger to the car’s occupants and other road users but it could also be breaking the law.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 makes it an offence to drive in a position “that does not give proper control or a full view of the road and traffic ahead”. If police think your sat nav or a phone mount is blocking your view they could hand you three penalty points. You could also be taken to court where you could face a fine of up to £1,000 and risk a driving ban.
Neil Worth, chief executive of Gem Motoring Assist comments: “A small screen device may seem to be only a minor obstruction from inside the car. However, it has the potential to hide a much larger area outside the car, depending on where you sit and the distance you are from it.”
Where should I place my sat nav?
There is no specific law regarding the placement of a sat nav or phone holder but, as mentioned above, there are rules regarding obstructing a driver’s view, as well as the application of a healthy dose of common sense.
The best place to mount your sat nav is in the bottom right-hand corner of your windscreen. The lower and further over it is, the less likely it is to obstruct your view.
If there isn’t space in the right-hand corner, you should aim to locate the unit as low down as possible towards the centre of the windscreen.
You should never mount a sat nav or phone directly under your rear view mirror or in the middle of your windscreen. Located this high up it will significantly block your view of the road ahead. Neil Worth comments: “Placing a satnav right in the centre of the windscreen will block most of your nearside view, and will mean you miss all the hazards that might be there. This is particularly dangerous on left-hand bends, at junctions and crossings, and in any locations where you may share the road space with cyclists and pedestrians.”
You should also never place it anywhere that it could injure the driver or passenger in the event of a crash, for instance, in front of an air bag zone on the dashboard.
Also, before you set up your sat nav, make sure you have your driving position sorted with seat and mirrors correctly adjusted.
Using a sat nav while driving
As with positioning, there is no specific law related to using a screen-mounted sat nav when driving but various other laws can be used to ensure you’re not endangering yourself or others through its use.
If police think you are distracted by fiddling with a sat nav or phone-based navigation app, they can stop you for not being in proper control of your vehicle. This also carries three penalty points, with the potential for a driving ban and £1,000 fine. In serious cases where your actions are thought to amount to careless driving you can be hit with an unlimited fine and up to nine points.
So it’s best to set the route before you start driving and use the unit’s voice directions rather than relying on looking at the screen.
The law is clearer on handheld devices, with government guidance stating that it is illegal to hold a phone or sat nav system while driving. That includes when you are stopped at traffic lights, queuing in traffic and if you’re supervising a learner driver.
Using a handheld phone carries a minimum fine of £200 and six penalty points.
A version of this article first appeared on The Scotsman