/ Motoring, Technology

‘Live traffic’ on your sat nav – is it worth paying for?

It’s probably the most significant sat nav development since maps appeared on-screen. And when delays strike, it could ensure you get to work on time. What is it? Live traffic information on your sat nav.

Depending on the whims of the traffic, my drive to work takes 25 minutes on a good day and well over an hour on a bad one. I can’t magic away the other cars, but I can do the next best thing – cycle! But if I’m not up for a ride, there’s always live traffic on my sat nav.

It’s saved countless hours for drivers, and probably quite a few hairs being torn out as well. And I’ve experienced just how good live traffic data is when assessing systems from Garmin and TomTom.

How live sat nav traffic works

For those who don’t know about it, many sat navs these days go beyond taking you from A to B, pointing out your nearest petrol station and beeping when you approach a speed camera. They can receive details of traffic jams and reroute you around them if a faster road exists.

Moreover, the latest system gets much more frequent, richer and accurate information over mobile internet. It gives you details of the delay, updated estimated arrival times, and is frequently looking for shortcuts to avoid traffic jams. Ultimately, it can be a real time saver.

Do you use live traffic?

On suitably equipped standalone sat navs, live traffic tends to be free for the first year, with a charge of about £45 for the second. You won’t get a free year with sat nav apps for your mobile, but you can pay on a monthly basis of about £3-£4, or between £18-£25 for a year.

Are these prices worth it? I drive approximately 1,500 miles a year, which isn’t much, so you might not think it would be worth spending £45 for live traffic data.

However, if it gets me to just one important appointment on time, I definitely think it’s worth it. And it’s certainly much better value than sat nav map updates. Of course, you can get live traffic for free on Google Maps, though admittedly it is less sophisticated.

So, live traffic information on your sat nav – is it essential for your journey to work and, if you do use it, is it worth paying for?


I love the idea but not at that price. If it was 20-25£ a year I wud definitely sign up… i HATE sitting in traffic!

At TomTom, using the RDS TMC was sometimes painfully inaccurate, especially when trying to navigate through a foreign country.

When Live traffic was introduced I was amazed at how accurate this system was, right up to the point detailing exactly where the jam started. The devices basically have a SIM card in them that checks for other stationary devices on the same stretch of road. If more than 3 = traffic jam.

I am completely unsold on paying for it though, much as I hate sitting in traffic, if the main route is blocked, this means that all the secondary and tertiary routes are going to be rammed also. The best way to go at points like this is by stopping and plotting a new route around everything manually rather than rely on the most popular.

I mostly use google traffic before I leave, yet it never seems to be entirely accurate. It can be green yet there are miles of tailbacks due to an accident, or it can be red when the traffic is moving freely. Having so many issues with breakdowns/accidents in the M1 Luton roadworks, I just don’t take that route north anymore.

Subscriptions are the way forward as a business model, but ultimately I lament having to pay for information that is provided for free elsewhere and will never sign up for something like that, regardless of how accurate it is.

Maybe if I was on the road every day, but I am not so it doesn’t matter to me

I use TomTom Live Traffic http://www.tomtom.com/livetraffic/ before setting off and either delay my journey or re-route, if there’s a problem. TTLT shows the same info as HD Traffic on your satnav. On long journeys, visiting friends/relatives, I have someone keep an eye on TTLT for me and call/text if a significant problem arises while I’m travelling, and I do the same for them when they’re visiting me.

Having said that, I do have HD Traffic on my iPhone app at present, paid for while they had a £20.99 special offer earlier in the year, and it’s great. Whether I renew depends on the price.

good point Dave, I’ll check HD traffic online before I set off now, instead of the useless google one.

Finally a use for a tablet device. With something like an iPad you could have a passenger checking from time to time.

Whether it is “worth it” or not, there is a fundamental problem with having to pay for this service. Good quality, accurate information about traffic conditions should be freely available to all road users. These are our roads, paid for by our taxes.

The Highways Agency have installed CCTV cameras and gigantic matrix display panels, again at our expense, but the quality of the information is sometimes appallingly poor, unreliable or out of date. For example, on 1st November, traffic queued for 3 hours on the M23 between Gatwick and the M25 – a distance of less than 5 miles. The signs only said there were “delays” between J5 and J8 of the M25, not that the road was closed and would not be reopening for several hours!

If a road has been closed at the decision of a public authority, they surely have a duty to inform all road users of the fact, not just those that pay for a premium subscription service or happen to be listening to the radio at the right moment?

No one has mentioned the free traffic updates that are broadcast over the FM network, all over Europe, which some satnavs, mainly those installed by the car manufacturer, receive.

No recurring charge and generally pretty good. Some of the UK warnings are still broadcast for an hour or two after the hold up has cleared, otherwise, works pretty well.

Better than nothing, and free, but I used FM traffic info for a while and wouldn’t want to revert to it after trying TomTom HD Traffic. I’m not pushing TomTom’s service, others may be as good or better, it’s just that TomTom’s is the one I’m familiar with. Having said that, based on reviews I’ve read elsewhere, it probably is the best or at least best-equal.

I used FM RDS TA radio broadcasts and a Traffic Mater ( blue poles ) recevier. Both are free to use.

I have a garmin nuvi model which came with FM traffic. It is “free” being included in the price, so no annual fee. It is superb! It will re-route you automatically when on the road, and will avoid traffic delays when programming. The only thing I have found is that is does not automatically re-route when the congestion has cleared; so every half hour or so I reset it to the destination. Would definitely NOT buy a satnav without it.
Has any one else found that mapping is not very accurate on minor roads through villages and on speed limits which have been in place for several years?

thomas63 says:
25 August 2013

I use nuLink! live for traffic info and the answer for me is NO it is not worth paying for.
3 Reasons:
First: last year one carriageway of the A690 was closed for 4 days. (mon to thurs, opened on friday) due to a huge hole appearing in the road. Caused major disruption and delays. I use this road daily and according to my garmin nulink the road was open and ok. RUBBISH.
Second: The estate where I live is just off a slip road from dual carriageway A road. The slip roads off the A road in both directions have been closed for the past few months, due to junction works and bridge repairs, causing delays and disruption at rush hour and weekends…my sat nav says it is open and there are no delays in the area. RUBBISH.
Third: A key roundabout is having a makeover, bridge repairs and all is just one lane (was 3) causing havoc on all roads leading onto it and will do till the other lanes are opened. I am in the que for 20 mins daily with my Sat nav saying all is ok, just the arrival time clocking up the mins. RUBBISH.
All the above were mentioned on local tv and radio updates as being issues in the area…and they want £44.99 when my subscription ends in two months. For the same for “another year of great service” I don’t think so.
I have looked online and some A roads are not mentioned in the search lists to check for roadworks, this may be a reason for the lack of up to date info. I don’t really know why.

This subject seems dead.

I was looking for some feedback on the current usability of live traffic services on TomTom, Garmin and others. I believe there issues with some devices which rely on an internal connection via the mobile network to obtain live data. The network(s) now get congested at busy times and drop the connection – this usually happens when there is a lot of traffic (M1, M3, M25 etc) just when you need it.

The Which November review on Satnavs does not help.

Whether live services justify the cost (some devices now have a lifetime service) is not part of my question. However in deference earlier posts my subscriptions have saved my bacon over time (eg making a flight departure, making business meetings etc)


I am using Navigon for Android which comes with their Traffic Live Alert. I have found this almost totally useless.

This morning for example I tried their new look app on the way to work. It immediately started spewing out almost continuous messages about traffic congestion on the A3 between Hindhead and Portsmouth. The messages were repeated so often that they ran into each other. All the messages warned of traffic congestion with an average speed of 10mph and showed a vastly increased travel time of approximately 1 1/2 hours.

The truth – the traffic was lighter than normal. there was no impediment to driving at 70mph except where slowing for the Ham Barn roundabout and when exiting off at slip roads.

Completely useless

David Allen says:
29 October 2018

I have noticed some alarming instance mis-navigation when using context instructions (Serena) with traffic awareness on the Garmin DriveSmart 50 LMT D

In particular the instructions on several occasions have been to navigate away from the main road and on to a local service road before rejoining the main road. Even if there were heavy traffic these specific manoeuvres would have been unwise driving, if not actually counter productive.
1. Most alarming and inappropriate at 51.569966, -0.143674 the instructions were to navigate off Highgate Hill and onto “The Bank” before navigating back onto Highgate Hill. There was no traffic to avoid, and if there had been the process of leaving the main stream and rejoining it would have taken longer than remaining in any queue, as well as being bad driving.
2. Equally, with no traffic, being instructed to leave the A10 at 51.648105, -0.060512 to drive for one block down the service road and then rejoin the A10.
3. And again in Regents Park Road at 51.527034, -0.163841 being instructed to turn left off the road, join the service road Kent Terrace for 20 yards and then rejoin Regents Park Road

In France outside Avignon les Villeneuve at 44.005797, 4.808863 being instructed to leave the D980 and join the Chemin des Maisonnettes a single track road. Completely unsuitable since the single track road was a much slower drive even if empty, more so when trying to navigate past agricultural traffic. I should point out that the unit is set to Fastest Route and not Shortest Route deliberately to avoid this sort of road.

In Spain outside Sineu, Mallorca, at 39.654383, 3.000333 being instructed to leave the very fast bypass road MA3240 and drive through the town on the old main road MA 3240A; again a much slower route.

Yesterday I recorded an even less welcome instance on the A13 outside London. At the junction of the A13 and A406 at 51.524410, 0.073305 where the traffic was light and I would make a right turn, I was instructed to drive to the next roundabout at 51.520176, 0.059229 where there was very heavy traffic, leave the A13, and then return along the opposite carriageway to the junction with the A406.

I think this is caused by a basic fault in the algorithms governing routes, I have the impression that they are calculated on the assumption that one will proceed at the maximum permitted speed along minor routes, even though that is both impractical and unsafe in many instances.

I’ve sent this off to Garmin Support and I’m waiting for a reply!