/ 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.