A Driving Instructor's Blog

TomTom Screen GrabThis article was first published in January 2018, then updated in November of the same year. However, I noticed someone asking on a forum recently what model of TomTom was used. He was given a lot of inaccurate and misleading information.

It was announced mid-2017 – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the DVSA introduced satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

After briefly considering buying one, I decided against it. I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. Even the latest ones are just too bulky to sit anywhere unobtrusively.

In the more recent past, if I’ve ever needed to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. In the weeks leading up to 4 December 2017, I tried using it with pupils. It works (if you know what you’re doing), but its choice of route can be creative to say the least. And it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Worse still is the inability to save pre-determined routes – and that’s essential for a driving instructor.

More recently still, I tried using the built-in satnav in my Focus on lessons. For me, it works. But the graphics are in Super Mario territory, and it also can be rather creative with its suggested routes. It can’t save pre-determined routes, and the erratic split-screen thing it does at unfathomable times is confusing to pupils. And I think the most recent map updates were drawn up by personally Christopher Columbus, because they don’t include road features installed within the last couple of years.

The more I thought about these issues as they pertain to pupils, the more I realised that the only realistic way forward was to use a TomTom in order that pupils wouldn’t be intimidated by a different looking map, different instructions, or different voices. I asked TomTom if there were any plans for an approved app that would run on Ford’s software. It seems that they did have an arrangement with Ford to develop such an app at one point, but that fell through for some reason.

Then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android. It turns your phone into a fully-blown TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display (see the screen capture, above). TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons, so it is useless. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited world maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav all the time. A standalone one would cost ten times as much and be out of date within a year or so, as far as the base unit is concerned.

A massive additional benefit of using a TomTom (other than pupils hearing the same voice and instruction approach they’ll get on test) is that by logging into your TomTom account on your PC or laptop you can create entire routes using a drag-and-drop map and save them. They sync automatically to all your devices through your account, and so appear in your list of saved routes. This is how DVSA has created the routes it uses. The benefit of these pre-determined routes is that you can force a specific journey around specific roundabouts or road features, rather than have the satnav try and re-route you through a shorter route to a specific destination. Of course, you can also save favourite places – like test centres or retail parks – and just set one of those as a destination and let the pupil follow whatever route the satnav comes up with. It’s all extremely flexible.

The TomTom GO app speaks through the vehicle audio system via your smartphone’s Bluetooth link (if you set it up that way).

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

At the time I started teaching it for the test, some of those I expected to have problems took to it remarkably well. A year down the line, I don’t even think about that anymore. It’s just part of what I have to teach them.

How much training does it take?

Very little, actually. The vast majority of pupils find the satnav easier to follow.

When I first started teaching it, I was planning to do it a lot. However, I now find that I bring it in nearer to their test and don’t worry about it before then. As I say, most take to it like ducks to water, so there’s no point me behaving as though ducks can’t swim.

You don’t need a TomTom

True. However, like it or not, my job is to get pupils ready for their tests, and I do that by focusing on road layout in Nottingham and not those in, say, Birmingham or Glasgow. To that end, it also makes sense to use a TomTom instead of something cheaper or just what I happen to own at the time.

It doesn’t matter what satnav pupils use

Also true – for most of them. Like I say, most take to it easily – but a few don’t. I just like to remove that variable from the equation. A significant number, for example, already have problems with roundabouts in a lesson and driving test context, so why risk them freaking out on test with unfamiliar instructions from a satnav they haven’t used before?

An example of that is the screen position and layout of the advance warning a satnav gives.  If it is different on the one they are using on lessons compared to the TomTom one used on tests, they may get confused.

Like it or not, many of our pupils reach test standard by the skin of their teeth. Unlike instructors (if they were taking the test), pupils approach it from the bottom up because they are beginners. That’s why I prefer to keep directional instructions as close to those they will experience on test as possible.

You might see things differently, and that’s fine. I see it my way and teach accordingly.

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