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Driving Advice & Safety

Getting Used To Driving With A Sat Nav

January 19, 2024

8 min read

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Sam Plant

Content Writer

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Photograph of a car's in-built satnav

Back in the day, if drivers wanted to head to a new place, they'd have to lug around their trusty road map. If luck was on their side, they'd have a passenger with them to list off directions. If they weren't so fortunate, they'd have to multitask by reading directions and driving at the same time! (Definitely not recommended by the Highway Code!) Nowadays, however, drivers are able to use a wondrous invention: the sat nav. Now, if you've never used a sat nav before, you might be wondering how you can get to grips with using one while driving.

Whether you're a learner preparing for the driving test, or an experienced driver testing out the wonders of satellite navigation for the first time, we're here to help! Keep reading to get PassMeFast's top tips for becoming a pro at driving with a sat nav!

Driving with a sat nav

As useful as sat navs can be in helping us head to new places for the first time, and to pick out routes with less traffic, they can come with an assortment of issues. For starters, if you're not used to driving with a sat nav, it can be difficult getting to grips with looking at the map without taking your eyes off the road for too long. Additionally, it can take some time to adjust to listening to directions without getting distracted. In short, there can be a lot of information to process.

As you know, however, distracted drivers can endanger themselves and other road users. As such, it's important that you know how to safely adjust to driving with a sat nav. So, let's take a look at some of the main rules you need to follow...

Before you start driving

Photograph of a car's interior. A mobile phone is attached to the dashboard and the phone has a GPS navigation app visible on the screen.

Make sure it's in the right place

Though you might think it a simple affair, the placement of your sat nav actually requires some effort. You can't just fling your sat nav onto the nearest flat surface in your car. You need to have hands-free access to it. Unless you're lucky enough to have a built-in sat nav, this means placing it on a dashboard holder or mat, or a windscreen mount. If you're using your mobile phone to direct you, you'll need to keep it in a cradle or attach it somewhere safe.

Wherever you place your sat nav, it's vital that it does not block your vision of the road ahead. Otherwise, you will face the following consequences according to GOV.UK:

You can get 3 penalty points if you don't have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle. You can also be taken to court where you can:

  • Be banned from driving
  • Get a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if you're driving a lorry or bus)

We'd recommend sitting behind the wheel and testing out the placement of your sat nav. The aim is to have it in a place where you can see the map, without having to move your eyes too far away from the road ahead. Avoid putting it in a position that requires you to crane your neck around or stretch in order to touch the screen.

Input your route

The road can be an unpredictable place. Even if you have the best hazard perception skills around, there are plenty of things that have the potential to catch us off guard—whether it's an errant cyclist or a distracted pedestrian. All of your focus needs to be on the road ahead, which is why you should not be sorting out your sat nav's route whilst on the move.

Instead, set up your route before you even start the ignition. Take your time while you do it, as you don't want to have to fix the route whilst on the road. Think about how difficult it can be to adjust certain car controls while keeping your eyes on the road ahead. Could you do the same as you type a postcode into your sat nav? We reckon the answer is a flat out no!

Turn it up

As you grow accustomed to using a sat nav whilst driving, you'll be able to move your eyes back and forth between the screen and road ahead with relative ease. If you're only just getting used to it, however, you'll want to try and focus on the road—opting to rely on the spoken instructions instead.

With that in mind, it's important that you make sure you're able to hear the instructions properly. Before you set off, play around with the volume controls until you find a level that suits you. Avoid putting on the radio or playing music until you're comfortable driving with the sat nav.

While you're on the road

Photograph of a car's interior. A mobile phone is attached to the dashboard and the phone has a sat nav app visible on the screen.

Don't get too distracted

If you're heading down an unfamiliar route, it's understandable why you might feel like you need to look at your sat nav every few seconds. Though your sat nav is there to assist you, it shouldn't be at the expense of your concentration. It might sound dramatic, but lives could be at risk if you allow yourself to get distracted by your sat nav. The police can even pull you over if they think you're not in full control of your vehicle.

You should try to follow the spoken instructions, rather than watching the map, as it allows you to maintain your focus on the road ahead. Remember: you need to stay aware of your surroundings. Don't just look at your sat nav—use your car mirrors and keep your eyes peeled for any potential hazards.

Be sensible

As incredible as sat navs are, they aren't always 100% accurate. Whether it's a bug, or an out-of-date map, there are many ways in which your sat nav might lead you down the wrong path. Fortunately, you can avoid most problems if you stay vigilant. Instead of following directions on auto-pilot, try to look ahead to make sure that nothing is off.

If you sat nav is telling you to continue forward, for example, even though there's a no entry sign, or it's a one-way street, you obviously need to ignore it and take another route. It's all about using your common sense. Act on what you see, not what your sat nav tells you to do. Don't be that driver who follows their sat nav into a lake or something. (You'll never live it down otherwise!)

Pull over if necessary

If you're driving and suddenly realise that your route is wrong, or that there's some kind of an issue with the sat nav, you should not attempt to fix it whilst driving. Taking your eyes off the road for even a few seconds could cause a major accident. You cannot hold your sat nav while driving either, even if it's just to make a quick adjustment, as it is against the law. Please note that this applies even if you've come to a stop at traffic lights or are queuing in traffic.

If you need to make a correction to your sat nav, look ahead for a safe place to pull over. If you're on the motorway or a dual carriageway, you will need to take the next available exit and find a safe place to pull over, or wait for a service stop. You must not use the hard shoulder unless it is an emergency.

Don't rely on it too much

For all of the advantages that come along with using a sat nav, there are also a few disadvantages—the main one being that drivers can often become overly reliant on them. It's important that you feel comfortable with following traffic signs to get to a destination. Even if you're convinced that you'll always use your sat nav, you never know when it might run out of battery or malfunction. If you're suddenly without the aid of a sat nav, would you be able to continue on? Make sure you flex your knowledge of traffic signs every once in a while, just in case the worst case scenario occurs.

You should also take care not to become too dependent on your sat nav for other information. If, for example, it tells you what the speed limit is in the area you're in, take care to cross-check it with minimum and maximum speed limit signs. Similarly, if your sat nav tells you what your car's speed is, take it with a pinch of salt. You might be better off sticking to the old school method of glancing at your speedometer.

Practice makes perfect

If you find yourself struggling to get to grips with driving with a sat nav, there's only one real solution: practice! It's the same as picking up any other driving skill. Think back to when you first started learning to drive. You probably had trouble with areas like clutch control, manoeuvres and roundabouts. After more practice, however, you start to adjust and it becomes yet another skill to add to your collection.

Once you've stopped

Photograph of a BMW car's interior with an in-built satnav system visible in the background.

Take it out of the car when you're done

If you're on the road a lot, it might seem like common sense to just leave your sat nav in your car once you get back home. It saves you from having to figure out where you last left it, after all. Unfortunately, this convenience comes with a costly downside: it increases the chances of theft. If someone sees your sat nav lying around in your car, they might be more likely to break into your car. Not only could they end up stealing your sat nav, they could try to take other valuables you might have stashed away.

So, instead of leaving it in the car, or putting it away in the glove box, take it out with you after every trip. Additionally, if you're looking for ways to keep your car out of the clutches of thieves, have a gander at our top tips to keep your car secure.

Make sure you charge it

Imagine that you're heading to a new place for the first time. You're following the directions from your trusty sat nav and everything's going fine. That is, until your sat nav suddenly dies. That's right! You forgot to charge it! Though in most cases you'll be able to switch to following road signs to get to your destination, you might struggle if you're in a more rural area. So, make it a part of your routine to check your sat nav's battery. If you're using it regularly, try to charge it at least once a week.

Don't forget to check for updates

Yes, yes. We know how much you probably hate updates. Don't we all? Nothing quite gets the temper going as much as waiting for Windows updates and the like. Unfortunately, when it comes to sat navs, it's pretty darn important that you update them. Map layouts, road names and speed limits are always prone to change, which means your sat nav needs to keep up. Additionally, if there's a bug, an update will usually fix the problem.

Depending on the model, your sat nav might automatically update itself as soon as it connects to the Wi-Fi. Other models, however, may require you to actively select an update feature from your device's menu. If you're not sure which applies with your sat nav, dig out the user manual or have a look online.

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