One in seven risking lives to correct sat-nav mistakes, warns charity

Published: 7 Jan 2015 09:30


A survey carried out by road safety charity Brake and Direct Line has found that more than one in seven (15 per cent) drivers who use 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 crash.

But dodgy u-turns aren’t the only danger. Brake and Direct Line’s survey also found that: one in 14 (7 per cent) 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 per cent) among young drivers (17-24);

one in 14 (7 per cent) drivers also admit to having a similar near miss because they were fiddling with their stereo (rising to one in 10 (11 per cent) among young drivers (17-24)).

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.

The charity says 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. 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.

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.”


A study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that 22 per cent of crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction. It also showed that drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are two to three times more likely to crash. Other studies have found that more complex secondary tasks, like talking on a mobile phone or texting, increase crash risk even more. Talking on a phone (hands-free or hand-held) has been shown to make drivers four times more likely to be in a serious crash, texting far more still.

Many drivers allow themselves to be distracted because they believe they are in control, and do not believe distraction poses a significant risk. However, research shows drivers are not able to correctly estimate how distracted they are [9] and 98% are not able to divide their attention without a significant deterioration in driving performance.

There is some evidence that using a sat-nav can increase driver speed and reduce observation. However, research has also found that voice-based in-vehicle navigation is safer than using a visual display or paper map, as it allows the driver to navigate without looking away from the road.

Listening to loud music has been found to slow drivers’ reaction times, and encourages aggressive driving. It can also prevent drivers hearing what is going on around them. Adjusting the controls of radios or music players can also be dangerous. Several studies into driver distraction have found that operating a stereo while driving leads to slower reaction times and more errors such as lane departure.

Voice-operated controls to allow the driver to complete tasks such as operating the radio are intended to reduce distraction by removing the need for the driver to look away from the road. However, research has found that these devices harm drivers’ ability to concentrate, and some speech-to-text systems can be even more distracting than a phone call.

Devices such as cruise control, aimed at reducing the driver’s workload, can also have the unintended side-effect of making drivers less attentive and more susceptible to fatigue, and can cause slower reaction times.

Some vehicles now come equipped with entertainment and communications technology that enables drivers to carry out tasks, or access information or entertainment, completely unrelated to driving, such as checking social media. Research showing the dangers of accessing information or engaging in communications via mobile phones suggests that using such technology at the wheel would pose a significant danger.

Brake’s advice

Many modern vehicles come equipped with technology aimed at making the driver safer or more comfortable. However, some in-vehicle technology can provide a dangerous distraction.

Driving is a complex and unpredictable activity that requires your full attention, so don’t kid yourself you can get away with multi-tasking at the wheel. You need to keep your mind and eyes on the road, and not attempt to do anything else but drive. Brake is urging drivers to avoid adjusting sat-navs, stereos or other gadgets, and never use your phone at the wheel – put it in the boot if you think you might be tempted.

If you use a sat-nav, programme it before starting your journey and never while driving. Fiddling with the sat-nav will take your eyes and mind off the road with potentially lethal consequences. Don’t rely on your sat-nav to notify you of problems ahead – stay alert.

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. You still need to look at signs, particularly those warning of hazards or speed limits, and watch for people and hazards.

Some other technologies now being fitted in vehicles enable drivers to carry out tasks, or access information or entertainment, that are unrelated to driving, such as checking social media. Just like using a mobile phone, using these functions is likely to pose a significant danger, so you should avoid them completely while driving.

Brake’s calls for government action

In-built vehicle ‘infotainment’ systems, that enable drivers to perform tasks straight from the dashboard that have nothing to driving, such as checking social media, are becoming increasingly widespread. If these devices are used for tasks such as emailing and social media updates while driving, they are potentially as distracting and dangerous as using a mobile phone. Brake therefore calls on government to regulate their use.

Brake is also calling for tougher penalties for distracted drivers, including much higher fines for those caught using phones, and the ban on phone use extended to hands-free kits, given research showing the dangers of using these.

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