PROBLEM: ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL
Distracted or drowsy drivers cause 1.5 million accidents a year, according to the Federal Government.
SOLUTION: WARNING SYSTEM
It can't hurt to have a second pair of eyes. Volvo plans to introduce a blind-spot warning system, which sees where you can't, for most of its 2006 models, out next year. A digital camera under the driver's side-view mirror watches for oncoming vehicles and triggers a flashing light as a vehicle approaches. For lane drifters (you know who you are), Infiniti is debuting a lane-departure warning system in its 2005 FX SUVs and 2006 M sedans. A camera on the rearview mirror recognizes lane markers and triggers an alert when you get offtrack.
PROBLEM: CLOGGED ROADS
Traffic is a nightmare, and it's not getting any better. Americans in urban areas spent an average of 46 hr. choked up on the highway in 2002, up from 16 hr. in 1982, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.
SOLUTION: TRAFFIC-SMART GPS
GPS navigation systems already save us from having to stop at gas stations for directions. But the next version for Acura and Cadillac may save us from having to stop anywhere. Combining electronic navigation with real-time traffic reports from XM satellite radio, the system can offer alternate routes when the usual way home is jammed. It debuts in 20 markets for the 2005 Acura RL and Cadillac CTS. You'll pay a premium over XM's basic subscription rate. The equipment is standard for the Acura model but a $3,000 option for the Cadillac.
PROBLEM: NO FUN
While cars are already jam-packed with electronics, they generally lack the wireless technology to tie together entertainment gizmos--all the stuff that can make a road trip worthwhile.
SOLUTION: WIRELESS ON WHEELS
In geekspeak, a car is just a hub that can connect with your cell phone, PDA or laptop--as long as the device includes wireless technology. Ford recently demonstrated a wi-fi-- enabled SUV that can wirelessly connect to your PC and allow you to transmit movies and MP3s to the car's entertainment system. Despite concerns about driver distraction, the satellite-radio service Sirius has plans to stream video to backseats in 2006 models, starting with cartoons and music videos. Eventually, cars may be networked so they can communicate with one another about roadside information, traffic updates and weather conditions while in transit. The manufacturer might even electronically transmit information to your car about, say, a problem with misfiring cylinders to alert you before you break down. And when you pass that hydrogen filling station, you might even get a digital coupon for a refill. --By Daren Fonda. With reporting by Joseph Szczesny/Detroit