I have a fancy Garmin-made BMW sat nav on my R1200GS, which works with a thumb-wheel control on the left-hand bar. However, a police friend of mine told me that, notwithstanding the thumb ring, if I operated the sat nav while riding I would be committing an offence.
I know that a sat nav is not treated the same as a mobile phone by the law but if I fiddle with my sat nav, am I really committing an offence?
A fixed sat nav is a different beast in law to a mobile phone but there is still plenty of scope for it to get you in trouble. Using your thumb to operate the wheel control on your Teutonic beast to interact with the sat nav is unlikely to attract the attention of the police, not least because you are not fiddling with your hands off the bar.
However, it is still unwise to fiddle about with your sat nav at all with your eyes off the road because if you have a little wobble as a result, you could be deemed to be driving without due care and attention, if the police do spot you.
If you have a minor prang because you’re looking at the screen and not the road, things could be a lot worse than just losing your no-clalms bonus or making your GS look even more rugged… However, if you explain to any friendly police officer attending the scene that you were distracted by the GPS controls, he will cheerfully nick you for another offence, namely driving without proper control.
This is also the offence I would expect you to be charged with if you – or owners of bikes without your BMW’s handlebar control – are spotted jabbing your sat nav’s screen by removing your hand from a moving motorcycle’s handlebars. The law is set out in Section 41D of the 1998 Road Traffic Act, which makes it an offence to drive a motor vehicle in a position that does not give proper control.
As riders, we’d all try to argue that we can have proper control with one hand on the handlebars, covering the throttle and the brake – after all, we use our left hands to wipe rain off visors or operate drop-down sunvisors while riding. However, those are quick operations and the truth is we’re not able to use the clutch and a proportion of our steering input is lost for as long as one hand is off the bars, which could be a while if you’re playing with the sat nav. On balance I would say that’s enough for most magistrates to convict you if you were caught operating your sat nav while riding.
The other aspect of this offence rests on whether or not you have a full view of the road. Well, that’s pretty unlikely if you’re staring at your sat nav to see what you are jabbing at. That would make it hard to argue it’s not driving without proper control.
In short, using the touchscreen of your sat nav while riding means you are very probably committing an offence. You could have some potential defence arguments but I would not want to test them. Proper control would usually mean using the bike in the way it was designed to be used, with all controls covered. If I were you I’d leave the sat nav well alone when riding, even with your BMW magic ring of joy. Keep your eyes on the road, both to keep your licence points-free and to avoid the embarrassment of picking up a felled giant motorcycle if it all goes awry.
RiDE Magazine March 2018