The law on mobile phone use in cars changed at the beginning of March. The penalty for drivers caught phoning or texting without being hands-free has doubled, to six points with a £200 fine. But there’s no need to be hit with a costly fine and hefty points. There’s plenty of aftermarket equipment that will keep drivers on the right side of the law and safe on the road.
Bluetooth integration for mobile phones first made its way into our cars in 2001. For years, it remained an option that drivers would have to pay for with their new car. These days, it’s widely available as standard.
For anyone driving an older car without Bluetooth, there is a wide range of products to choose from, some offering much more than just wireless connection to a phone.
Digital radio, music streaming, navigation instructions and even fancy head-up displays are vying for your hard-earned money. Here’s how you can join the digital revolution.
Gadgets for making hands-free calls
Not everyone wants all the bells and whistles when it comes to staying connected in the car. For many, the ability to go ‘hands-free’ and receive or make phone calls without fiddling with a mobile phone is enough.
It’s not only a convenient feature, but an essential way to stay safe and on the right side of the law. There are affordable gadgets, starting from less than £20, that will connect with a Bluetooth-compatible mobile phone and let a driver make hands-free calls.
Compact and portable, they are either an earpiece or sleek box of tricks that attaches to a car’s sun visor. The beauty of either approach is they don’t require any wiring or fixtures to be used. They import the phone’s contacts, and use voice-recognition technology to understand someone’s name and instruct your phone to call that person.
Look out for models from reputable makers including Bose, Motorola, Nexxus, Parrot and Plantronics. Auto Express reviews a wide range here.
Buying tip: Good quality products will feature noise cancellation technology. This filters out the roar of the engine, tyres and wind and focuses on the user’s voice, making for clearer calls.
Navigation with hands-free calls
Portable navigation devices are clever bits of kit. They do more than just give directions. Better ones will connect to a smartphone, using Bluetooth, and let the user make hands-free calls.
If you own an older car without a navigation system or phone integration, this is likely to be money well spent. For buyers of new cars which don’t come with nav or phone as standard, a savvy move is to forget about paying the car maker for costly optional extras and buy a portable unit instead.
They have large screens with graphics that have been optimised to be user-friendly on the move, and their GPS (Global Position System) receivers are often superior to those of a smartphone. What’s more, unlike using a mobile phone’s map app, they don’t suffer from patchy signal problems.
Makes like Garmin, Mio and TomTom offer units that come with a complimentary lifetime upgrade of maps, and for convenience these can be synced over a wifi wireless connection.
They also feature voice recognition tech. So whether you need to change your address, or want to call the in-laws to let them know you’ll be late for Sunday lunch, it can all be done without taking your hands off the steering wheel and eyes off the road. Here are some of the best, reviewed by PC Advisor.
Buying tip: Choose a model that offers free map updates for the life of the product.
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