New survey says listening to your sat-nav could be a mistake

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‘Turn around when possible.’ It’s a phrase that anyone who drives with the aid of a sat-nav knows well.

But it could mean more than just a navigational nightmare. A survey by road safety charity Brake and Direct Line has found that more than one in seven (15%) drivers who use a sat-nav admit making illegal or risky manoeuvres to correct mistakes when following sat-nav instructions, putting themselves and other road users at risk of a devastating crash.

Dodgy u-turns aren’t the only danger. Brake and Direct Line’s survey also found that:

  • one in 14 (7%) drivers have had a near miss, having to swerve or brake suddenly to avoid a hazard, because they were distracted by a sat-nav (rising to one in 10 (11%) among young drivers (17-24);
  • one in 14 (7%) drivers also admit to having a similar near miss because they were fiddling with their stereo (rising to one in 10 (11%) among young drivers (17-24))

When used responsibly, using a voice-based sat-nav can make you a safer than using a visual display or paper map, as you can navigate without looking away from the road [1]. However, there is some evidence that relying on a sat-nav can make you drive faster and make you less observant [2]. Fiddling with a stereo can also make you react slower and make more errors [3].

Through its drive smart campaign, Brake is calling on all drivers to make a new year’s resolution to stay alert and keep their mind and eyes on the road. That means programming your sat-nav before you set off, and not attempting to re-programme it, fiddle with your stereo, use a mobile, or do anything else while driving. Research shows almost everyone is unable to multi-task at the wheel without driving performance being badly affected [4]. Carry out a secondary activity and you’re two to three times more likely to crash: more for complex activities like talking on a phone or texting [5].

Brake is also calling on drivers not to be distracted by the range of technologies being installed in many new cars that have nothing to do with driving, such as access to social media. Brake is also appealing to the government to regulate the use of features that can pose a dangerous distraction to drivers.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “Sat-navs have revolutionised the way many of us drive, helping us get from A to B without worrying about navigation, and there are indications they can make you safer. However, there are potential pitfalls to be wary of that can pose a real danger to yourself and other road users. Remember, the sat-nav is there to help you keep focused on driving rather than worry about directions, but it’s not there to make all the decisions for you. Driving is an unpredictable activity, so you still need to look at signs, particularly those warning of hazards or speed limits, and watch for people and unexpected problems.

“For many drivers there is an increasing array of technological temptations that can pose a deadly distraction; it’s essential to resist to ensure you and others arrive safely. Brake’s advice is: set your sat-nav and radio before you set off, put your phone in the boot and ensure you’re not tempted to do anything that will take your mind or eyes off the road while driving.”

Rob Miles, director of motor at Direct Line, commented: “Looking at the sat-nav while your eyes are meant to be on the road is no different from trying to drive with a map in front of you. It’s dangerous, and you shouldn’t do it. If you’re going to use sat-nav to guide you through a journey, better to use a voice-based version so you can keep your eyes on the road. If you need to change direction or turn around, do it safely, even if it takes a bit of time to get to the next roundabout rather than doing a U-turn. And if you want to look at the sat-nav, do what you’d do with a map: find somewhere safe to pull over before having a look.”