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Is it legal to use a sat-nav with speed camera alerts?

Most of us hate speed cameras, but luckily there are several products that warn you of their presence, thus helping you avoid fines. Snooper, TDS, RoadAngel, Streetwize Spy, Laser Star and sat-navs with speed camera location databases can all reduce your chances of being nabbed by the po-po, but which of these, if any, are legal?

The answer isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be. Eagle-eyed motorists will have spotted the news that sat-navs with built-in speed camera warnings are illegal in France and many other countries across Europe, and that using one could land you with a hefty fine. Many such devices are also illegal here in the UK. With this in mind, we’ve put together a guide to demystify the subject and hopefully prevent you being collared by the long arm of the law.

Your sat-nav could get you arrested when driving abroad.
Your sat-nav could get you arrested when driving abroad.

Ok, when is it legal?

Here in the UK, if your satellite navigation system has database of speed camera locations pre-programmed into its memory then you’re not breaking any laws. In fact, the police encourage use of these systems, as drivers who are aware of speed camera locations are more likely to slow down at accident black spots.

Which speed camera detectors are illegal?

If your device of choice is not pre-programmed with speed camera locations then chances are it’s a standalone radar detector. If that standalone device sends a signal back to ‘jam’ the device trying to detect your speed, that device is illegal. Take care to read the full product description and small print on Snooper Laser Star, Valentine and Bel radar products, as these have been known to jam police radars.

Are speed camera detectors illegal in Europe?

In several cases, yes. Many countries on the continent take a stricter approach than the UK. According to TomTom, use of its sat-nav speed camera service is prohibited in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The law in Germany prohibits radar warning hardware, but sat-navs that list speed camera locations is not forbidden — however there is not yet a legal precident to confirm this.  

In France, it is illegal to use equipment that gives the exact location of a speed camera. As a result, TomTom has built in an alternative system. A spokesperson from TomTom explained, “Instead of using the database of camera locations in France, we take the database of ‘Zones de Danger’ – danger zones, which identify areas where cameras are likely to be. We alert the driver with a ‘danger zone warning’, which is not illegal.” Smart workaround.

It’s a confusing issue as the law varies from country to country. TomTom absolves itself of any risk by saying “you remain responsible for the use of the TomTom Speed Camera service. On most of our navication devices you can easily remove these for any individual country.”

If in doubt, switch it off — or at least learn how to so you can do so in a hurry if necessary.

Can I get fined for using UK sat-navs in France?

Technically, yes. If your sat-nav tells you the locations of speed cameras, then you’re in breach of the law, whether or not the device is switched on. The fine for French motorists having such a device is €1,500 plus six points on your driving license. However we understand police aren’t allowed to inspect a GPS or mobile phone to verify whether your device has speed camera warnings without a good reason.

What about outside Europe?

Further afield, the US has no problem with passive detectors, except in Washington D.C and Virginia, but cross over the border to Canada and you could face a hefty fine (up to $650 in Quebec) if police detect your detector.

What are the penalties?

In the UK, if you’re found to be using equipment that interferes with the police carrying out their duties to enforce the law, i.e. blocking the radar signal, then you can face a fine and either points on your licence, or a straight-up ban.

Abroad, the penalty can be a fine, the confiscation of your equipment and in some circumstances, the confiscation of your vehicle. In which case, you’d better start brushing up on your German and French hitchhiking phrases.

Knowing your rights

It’s worth noting that police aren’t actually allowed to randomly point their radar guns at just any passing vehicle. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Traffic Enforcement Guidelines make clear that officers must already hold the belief a car is travelling at excessive speeds (Section 32.5). The speed detection radar is to give them evidence to corroborate that belief. They should be rocking their guns in high-visibility jackets too (section 31.2) – not jumping out of bushes like tabloid paparazzi waiting for their next victim.

In the unlikely event that this does happen, you are well within your rights to challenge the ticket.

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