Can a GPS jammer cause damage to a driving car?

Popular legally purchased devices can block systems that can be used to track stolen cars or long-working truck and taxi drivers

Thousands of people in the UK are using “gps jammer” which are connected to car cigarette lighters and, according to new knowledge from experts, can stop locating stolen cars, monitoring vehicle use or interrupting drivers’ work for extended periods of time.

This could lead to tired truck drivers remaining on the road despite the presence of monitoring equipment and posing a danger if vehicles equipped with the jamming transmitters continue to fly near airports that rely on GPS (Global Positioning System) for navigation ,

Despite the risks posed by devices sold over the Internet, it is not illegal to import, sell, buy, or own them. It is only punishable under the law on wireless telegraphy to “knowingly” use such a device to block GPS signals – although the Ofcom communications agency is trying to close some of the gaps.

The increasing use of the devices could also torpedo plans to introduce “pay as you drive” insurance or road toll systems if the vehicle owner could block communication with surveillance systems.

“When people use this, it creates an air bubble around their vehicle that will interfere with any GPS receiver or transmitter for about 500 meters,” Chronos Technology Professor Charles Curry told the Guardian. “It stops any tracking system that the owner may have put on the car. They usually also block GSM signals (cell phone signals) that may also be used to send a location back.

“That means that anyone who tries to track the vehicle simply disappears from the map – it’s as if it’s in an underground car park,” added Curry.

The police have already confiscated a jammer that, after testing the team, was used by a truck driver. This has set up a system that can detect the interference caused by the jammer.

Bob Cockshott of the ICT Knowledge Transfer Network said: “People use it because they don’t want to be discovered. It is very easy to drown out the signal from a GPS satellite – which emits as much energy near the ground as a 20 watt light bulb 12,000 miles away. ”

When engineers started monitoring traffic on a two-lane road outside of London and comparing it to traffic on streets within the City of London, they found that jammers were used regularly on some streets, with 10 incidents per day. Given the traffic on the road, this would affect thousands of users across the country.

“It could be truck drivers who deliver out of business hours or taxi drivers who work for a company and want to keep all payments to themselves instead of sharing them with the taxi owner,” said Curry.

However, Curry and Cockshott stated that the use of jamming transmitters poses a greater risk, and not just for tired drivers. “They could interfere with aircraft navigation systems and affect GPS reception for nearby drivers because they cancel these signals,” said Curry.

In fact, an online review by a user of a jammer included the complaint that his GPS was not working when it was active.

However, the availability of such jammers has faded compared to the Russian-built jammers in North Korea that are said to affect systems up to 100 km away – and which in May 2012 scrambled GPS signals near two of the most important South Korean devices were used at airports.