Driving Tips: Using a Smartphone as Sat Nav

By: James Ruppert
Using smartphone as a sat nav

Smartphone Sat Navs

Can you, or can’t you use your smartphone as a Sat Nav? 

It's a seemingly simple question and the answer is that you can, but there have been conflicting answers across police forces and the government as to how you are allowed to use your phone whilst driving.

In short, use your smartphone in a certain way to avoid getting into trouble.


Driving Distractions: What's not allowed

Most of us should be aware that it's illegal to text and you can't answer calls, unless a Bluetooth or other connected system is fitted. It's also not legal to flick through a playlist, social media or messages on your smartphone.


Smartphone Map Apps & Satellite Navagation

However, it is possible to use a map app on a smartphone, but certain rules must be followed to stay on the right side of the law.

  1. The first step to doing this is by making sure that you buy a suitable cradle or holder for your phone.
  2. Before you drive, you must have programmed in the destination. Not whilst you are in traffic, or at the lights, but when parked and the device has your full attention. If at any point you need to revise the route you must pull over and park safely before doing so.

The police can stop you if they believe you're distracted or not in control of your vehicle at any time. You could be issued with a penalty fine, points or even be prosecuted - especially if they believe your phone use resulted in an accident.


how to use your phone as a sat nav Position phone holders out of your line of vision

How to Position your Smartphone

It's vital your phone screen is positioned in the holder so it's not regarded as either a distraction or an obstruction, according to the Highway Code. It states both windscreens and windows must be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision.

So don’t put the phone in your field of forward vision, it should be at around a 45-degree angle from you.

Ideally place the holder somewhere on the dashboard, but at a logical level. Many believe fitting them on, or near the air vents makes the most sense.



Smartphone Sat Nav - What Apps Do You Recommend

If you intend to use a sat nav app there are a range available to download for free. The big 3 are probably:

  • Apple Maps - the default sat nav app if you own an IOS device. Also supports public transport directions or if you're planning to walk or cycle. Using Siri to set your directions is a pretty cool experience.


  • Google Maps - the default sat nav app if you own an android device. Also supports public transport directions or if you're planning to walk or cycle. The original app to "find my house", with street view images of most roads allowing you to familiarise yourself with a destination before you leave for it.


  • Waze (my favourite) - available for all devices, Waze uses reports from other users to live-update routes if traffic is building up ahead, there's an accident or roadworks. With millions of UK users, I've found it to be the best app for getting me to my destination quickly and reliably.


Even if you do use a smartphone sat nav app, it is always worth having a hard copy of a UK road map or atlas in case you get lost or into trouble with no battery on your phone.

Here's a full checklist of what to keep in your car


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