Road Safety News

Sat navs causing ‘lethal reduction’ in driver visibility: GEM

Tuesday 10th May 2016

‘Thoughtless’ positioning of sat nav devices is leading to a ‘potentially lethal reduction in driver visibility’, according to GEM Motoring Assist.

The breakdown organisation says that when positioned in the middle of a car windscreen, today’s large screen devices impair visibility, especially on left hand bends and at junctions.

David Williams MBE, GEM chief executive, says drivers are taking “a huge risk” by obscuring their view.

To address the issue, GEM has published a series of tips advising drivers how to safely position a sat nav.

It says that the safest place is low down on the windscreen, and to the far right - but if it has to be in the centre of the windscreen, it should be positioned as low down as possible.

GEM also says drivers should avoid locations where a sat nav could cause injury to a driver or passenger in the event of a crash - including potential head strike zones on the windscreen, and locations where the device may come in contact with an airbag.

David Williams MBE said: “Sat nav devices are great for relieving a lot of motoring stress. But if in the process you’re obscuring a vast swathe of your field of view, then you are taking a huge risk.

“A typical large screen sat nav device measuring nearly seven inches (17cm) wide by four inches (10.48cm) high has the potential to cause significant restrictions to a driver’s field of view, especially if it’s mounted in the centre of the windscreen below a large rear view mirror.

“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.

“Placing a sat nav 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.”

Photo: The Bees, via Flickr. Used and adapted under Creative Commons.


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Along with many other moving traffic offences and Construction & Use requirements, field of view obscuration is not caught by speed cameras. Lack of traffic policing leads to ignorance or contempt of the rules intended to ensure safety. Even more easily spotted is faulty/unused vehicle lighting. As a student in an old Morris Minor I often used to get stopped by police (and after a good check round be sent on my way with compliments). Returning to this practice could yield a tidy sum in fines for badly placed sat navs etc.
Alan Thomas, Loughborough

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

HC Annex 6 makes it clear that windows MUST be kept clean and clear of obstructions to vision. The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 also states, '(3)  All glass or other transparent material fitted to a motor vehicle shall be maintained in such condition that it does not obscure the vision of the driver while the vehicle is being driven on a road.' Additionally, if you use a suction mounted car camera in the UK, if the device (camera and/or cradle and/or suction cup) intrudes more than 4cm into the secondary (pink) wiper clearance zone, or intrudes more than 1cm into the primary (red) wiper clearance zone of the windscreen, you are committing a serious traffic offence (dangerous driving) under the UK Road Traffic Act 1988, and your vehicle is not roadworthy (it would fail an MOT). There is also a document by DoT called, Information Sheet. View to Front and Windscreen Obsuration. ( where it says, 'e. Windscreen stickers, or other obstructions, shall not encroach more than 40mm (into Zone B). So GEM is absolutely right to make this point. Also imagine how much view is lost with things like Hawaiian garlands hanging off the central mirror.

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To my understanding of the Law which might now be out of date but it was that nothing other than the tax disc can be attached to the front windscreen. I remember a time when the front screen had an inbuilt heater and believe that caused much consternation at the time and that was a very fine line across the window.
R.Craven Blackpool

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

Point taken Charles, but I was referring to the geometry of junctions and accesses generally where visibility splays and sight lines have to be complied with - for when the vehicle is already stopped and the driver is looking left and right waiting to emerge.

The two examples you showed do not reduce visibilty for drivers stopped at the give way lines at the roundabouts, but seem to be designed to reduce visibility only on the approach, so that motorists who are approaching are not tempted to take their eyes off the road to look right in advance of the give way, to avoid slowing down - makes sense.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (3)

It is ridiculous, certainly in my area the "ideal" location seems to be just to the right of the rear view mirror, halfway up the screen. Given the size of many modern phones and satnavs even the biggest fool should be able to think "this is not smart". Sat navs talk for a reason!

Many of these people may well have had an MOT test with the advisory of item removed from drivers vision. I have had that advisory myself, despite the fact in my vehicle, the bottom centre positioning of my device was only obscuring a view of the bonnet.

I agree wholeheartedly with the comment on A pillars. I normally drive an elderly 4x4 with a fairly upright screen and thinner pillars. I recently drove a VW Fox, that not only had pillars and trim much thicker than my own, but they were much longer and at a shallower angle. I am used to thinking of my pillars obscuring a motorcycle, but when a transit van on a roundabout disappears, that is a very different kettle of fish.
steve, watford

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Hugh, you wrote of the practice of deliberately reducing visibility at junctions: "For some time, we have had design standards for highways which prevents this". Are you sure about that because here are a couple of recent examples of it?,-2.4652266,3a,75y,290.24h,75.42t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1skfeJhfgvOzPdRW2OG3eDcQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
Charles, England

Agree (6) | Disagree (1)

Reducing the field of view at junctions in the interests of improving road safety is still in the designers toolbox - although hopefully this tool does not get taken out and used too often now.
Pat, Wales

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Charles: I agree with your point on the 'A' posts as, I think, most would, but it's going a bit far to say the HAs are deliberately reducing visibility at junctions! For some time, we have had design standards for highways which prevents this and although there are junctions with poor visibility, they're typically old layouts which can't or haven't been improved.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (10)

It would appear that there are two schools of thought on this. On the one hand, if the highway authority reduces the field of view for drivers at, say, a junction, it helps slow drivers down and look more carefully - so is good for road safety. On the other hand, if drivers reduce their own field of view it is construed as a road safety hazard. Can we have it both ways? What about the massive blind spots created by ever increasing roof pillar widths (apparently necessary to pass crash tests) in modern cars?
Charles, England

Agree (9) | Disagree (4)

..not forgetting of course, in winter, snow-covered windscreens with an aperture, the size of a dinner plate in front of the steering wheel, conscientously cleared by the driver, no doubt to aid his/her visibilty for the ultimate in driver safety.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Sensible advice. It is not just sat navs that are a problem: I see some drivers have garlands of ridiculous fake flowers hanging from central mirrors, so I yearn for the days when an enterprising TrafPol would have stopped them for a polite chat.
David, Suffolk

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