Many new vehicles show the speed limit on the GPS screen, in a head-up display or beside the speedometer. It’s a handy feature, but who is making sure that these speed limits match the road signs? How often are carmakers required to update these limits? Can I do anything if my car’s GPS tells me the wrong speed limit and I get a ticket? – Lawrence, Saanich, B.C.
If your car tells you the wrong speed limit and you get a ticket, you’re on your own, a legal expert said.
“People call me all the time and say, ‘My GPS told me to do this and then I got a ticket,’” said Kyla Lee, a Vancouver-based criminal defence lawyer. “At the end of the day, you’re the one who’s responsible for your decision-making and your driving – and you’re the one who’s responsible for following the law.”
So, for instance, if your car tells you the speed limit is 80 kilometres an hour and you get a ticket for going over 50 in a construction zone, you’re likely stuck with the ticket, Lee said.
“That is not a defence in court that’s going to get you out of your traffic ticket,” she said. “Just because somebody or something tells you to do something illegal, that doesn’t excuse you from using your own skill and judgment as a driver.”
So how does your car know the speed limit? Some cars get their information from the built-in GPS. Others use cameras to read the road signs.
Neither system is regulated or required to be tested for accuracy, Transport Canada said.
“These systems are intended to be driver aids only,” Sau Sau Liu, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, said in an email. “Drivers are responsible for operating their vehicles in accordance with all laws and regulations applicable in the jurisdiction in which they are travelling and at a speed that is appropriate for road conditions.”
That includes obeying all road signs, Liu said.
Convenience, not safety
GPS systems and information displays are considered “convenience features” and are not covered by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act or by Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations, Liu said. Automakers aren’t required by law to update GPS information to make sure any information, including speed limits, is accurate.
So, a camera-based system might miss a sign, or a GPS-based system may not know that a speed limit has recently changed, Lee said.
“It can be wrong,” Lee said. “Relying on GPS could put you in a position where you’re getting outdated or inaccurate information.”
Some cars that don’t read road signs or have built-in GPS can still display the speed in the infotainment display when using a GPS smartphone app through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
GPS apps including Waze and Google Maps aren’t subject to Transport Canada’s safety rules, but some drivers have wondered whether they could sue the app company if it displayed the wrong information and they got into a crash.
“You probably couldn’t sue them,” Lee said. “Either in the user agreement or in a warning that it’ll give you when you input your directions, it’ll say that information may not always be accurate and to please pay attention to local signs and follow all local laws.”
Have a driving question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.