The road can be a difficult place to be. However, aimed with nothing more than a smartphone, you can overcome everything from traffic jams to inconsiderate drivers, and a lot of the apps and tools you need are free to get hold of as well.
Just don’t forget that it’s illegal to operate a smartphone when you’re driving, won’t you…
Tell Google your plans
If you’re using the free Google Now app on Android or iOS, make sure the linked Google Calendar tool includes specific locations for all the places you’re trying to get to during the day — Google’s digital assistant will warn you ahead of time when you need to set off and if there’s a traffic jam on the way.
You can then tap through to get directions to wherever it is you’re heading off to.
Get crowd-sourced information
Any Waze user can report a traffic jam, an accident, a set of roadworks, a police car, a speed camera, a flooded road or anything else you might want to know about. You can of course do your bit for the cause as well, and all the usual sat nav features are included too.
Check in with the RAC (or AA)
The apps include up-to-date traffic news, route planners to find the quickest way from A to B, special offers you can take advantage of while on the road, and of course a quick way of signing up for a membership, if you think the price of cover is worth it.
Get a heads up about delays
There are several apps that can warn you about upcoming delays, but we like the clean and clear look of Live Traffic Info (for Android and iOS) — you can even plug into some live Highways Agency traffic cams if you want to check just how clear the road ahead is. I
t only covers motorways and major A roads in England, but this is where most problems crop up, and roadworks and accidents are both covered.
Record the road
You don’t necessarily have to fork out on a dashcam device for your car, because an app like CamOnRoad (Android, iOS) can do the same job for you, silently recording everything that happens while you drive and potentially getting you out of a sticky insurance claim situation.
It also offers video navigation functionality and automatic alerts for various problems you might come across during your journey.
Understand your car’s diagnostics
Using a small Bluetooth device plugged straight into car’s diagnostic port (most cars made in the last decade or two are supported), you can get information on everything from the temperature of the engine to how many miles per gallon you’re currently getting.
Let people know where you are
One of those triggers can be your smartphone’s location, and another can be sending a text (or email) to say how far away you are. It’s well worth exploring the many different channels on offer and creating your own recipes.
Keep going without a data signal
TomTom’s apps for Android and iOS don’t exactly come cheap (the former offers in-app purchases rather than an up-front fee) but if you can stomach the price of admission then there are plenty of features to play around with.
One of those is the excellent offline mode — by downloading the maps you need in advance, the TomTom app can continue getting you to your destination even in the middle of nowhere.
Spot speed cameras in advance
Another of the features you might find useful while tootling around with TomTom’s app is the speed camera warning function — it gives you a fair heads-up when you’re approaching one so you can double-check that your speed is what it should be.
Remember to factor in the money saved on speeding fines when you’re wondering whether you should pay up for the full TomTom experience on your smartphone.
Organise your saved places
Having locations bookmarked in advance can save you a lot of screen tapping time when you’re on the road, and Here Maps (Android, iOS) has a better system than most, because it lets you organise your starred or saved places into categories.
They’re called collections, and you could have one collection for business use, one for your favourite ice cream shops, one for hotels you regularly use, and so on.
Keep an eye on the speed limit
Another of the benefits that Here Maps brings is a constant reminder of the speed limit for the road you’re currently driving down.
It’s not a feature that’s exclusive to this app but it’s one that you won’t find everywhere (Google Maps and Apple Maps don’t yet have it) — if you’re approaching a speed camera then being able to see the limit with a quick glance at the screen can prove very useful.
Take the scenic route
You don’t always want to be bombing it down the motorway to reach your destination in the fastest time possible, and Google Maps for Android and iOS (like many other sat nav apps) lets you avoid motorways if you want to — just tap on the Options button once you’ve searched for a particular route.
You also get the option to avoid toll roads and avoid routes that include ferry crossings if necessary.
Switch routes on the fly
As you make your way to your destination, Google Maps automatically keeps an eye on the traffic up ahead — if an alternative route becomes faster, the app tells you about it, and gives you the option to change course with a tap on the screen.
You might also see alternative routes mapped out in grey on the map, together with how much extra time they’ll take, and again you can tap to switch.
Hear yourself think
If you’re an iPhone user who prefers making use of Apple Maps rather than any third-party alternative, again there are a number of handy features to take advantage of: traffic conditions and incidents are shown on screen by default, for example.
Head into the Maps section of Settings and you can adjust the volume of the spoken directions in relation to other audio (such as music or podcasts).
Preview your journey
Back in the old days, you had to work out a journey on a map in advance — while it wasn’t as convenient as the sat nav apps of today, it gave you a better understanding of your route.
In Apple Maps you can tap on the list icon after finding a route to see all the steps involved and the turns you need to take: you could even scout out difficult junctions in advance using Google Street View or something similar.