A simples guide

A guide to driving tech

Cars have come a long way from the days when we had to manually wind the windows and air conditioning meant you had a sunroof that only opened about 4cm. Nowadays, cars come with gadgets galore – to the extent where a baffled 73% of car owners don’t understand how to use them all. So, if that sounds familiar, your enlightenment begins right here.

Keep connected

Cars don’t just go places these days – they’re connected. That means that wherever you go, you’re online with access to the internet, as some cars automatically connect to local Wi-Fi networks.

Being connected allows cars to link up entertainment and information systems (collectively called infotainment), so that drivers have a central hub that can be accessed with ease.

But while fancy infotainment systems are all well and good, it’s not quite the same as the power of the smartphone…until now, that is. Because smartphone giants Android and Apple are getting in on the act with their respective Android auto and CarPlay platforms. Both systems aim to turn your car’s infotainment centre into an extension of your smartphone. All you need to do is plug in and go, and you’ll have a selection of your apps available to use.

Android auto and CarPlay are being rolled out by various car manufacturers, but don’t worry, it won’t necessarily be a question of brand alliances as most cars with the ability to sync with a smartphone will do so with both platforms. The technology isn’t perfect but it’s constantly being honed, and the general verdict of tech nerds is that the smartphone plug-in platform is far better than anything a car manufacturer has come up with so far.


Safety first

Some of the biggest advancements in the world of driving tech have come in the form of safety features, which is great because 95% of all road accidents involve human error.

If you want to get technical about it, safety features broadly fall into three main categories:

  • Passive information systems are things that most of us will be familiar with, such as sat navs, night vision and blind-spot detection.
  • Semi-autonomous driver assistance include features like parking assist or emergency brake assist. Both these features need driver input, but they can also be disabled.
  • Autonomous vehicle control and safety systems are features aimed at avoiding or minimising accidents and, as such, they can’t be overridden. They include systems like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and electronic stability control (ESC).

Driver delight

Cars aren’t just getting safer, they’re becoming mini havens of comfort. Gone are the days of getting up 10 minutes earlier to scrape off ice on the windscreen with a credit card – some cars will now do that for you (minus the credit card). If that sounds too good to be true, then check out the BMWi3’s de-icing skills. And the i3’s party tricks don’t stop there. It can flash its lights and sound its horn on command, so no more wandering aimlessly around car parks because you can’t remember where you parked your car.

A lot of creature comforts are closely linked to safety and minimising driver distraction, such as the use of heads-up display (HUD) technology. HUD projects information onto a clear screen fitted to the windscreen. It means there’s no excuse for taking your eyes off the road as all the information you need, such as sat-nav directions, are literally right in front of you.

Another neat trick is the self-parking car, not just semi-autonomous parking where you steer or accelerate, but actual, ‘get out of the car and watch it park itself’ type self-parking. It sounds unbelievable but the reality is that the technology exists, it’s just about it getting to the mass market.

Lots of cars also now come with keyless entry, where you don’t even have to get the keys out of your pocket to open it. But what about taking it one step further and not having a physical key at all. Sounds weird? Well, it’s something that manufacturers are working on and ‘digital keys’ are the way forward – all you’d need is your smartphone and an app. 

Rumour has it that Volvo is aiming to launch keyless cars in 2017. Disbelief aside, it does have very practical uses, such as if you hire a rental car. They’d be no more queuing at the hire desk, you’d just go straight to the car’s location, unlock and go.


Top tech and car insurance

Better safety tech should mean fewer car accidents, and fewer accidents could mean lower car insurance. However, for that to happen, the majority of cars would need to adopt top-notch tech before we start to see any big differences.

One area of car security that could make a difference sooner rather than later is GPS tracking. Fitting a GPS tracker makes it (quite literally) harder for thieves to get away with your vehicle, which in turn could help lower your premium. If your car is particularly expensive, then your insurance provider may insist on a tracker being fitted as part of your policy. Some trackers don’t just ensure your car can be found but they allow you to disable the car remotely, stopping car crooks in their tracks.

Telematics is another example of how technology has helped lower the cost of insurance, primarily for young drivers. Telematics, more commonly known as black box technology, uses a small device (or an app) that’s fitted to your car to monitor your driving. The data is fed back to your insurance provider who bases the cost of cover on your driving skills – so the more you obey the rules of the road, the more likely you are to be rewarded with a favourable premium.

Future car

Cars are clever; so clever that they can drive themselves. We might not see fleets of them on the roads just yet, but self-driving cars are already in use in some areas – such as Paris, Singapore and Milton Keynes (yes, really).

Driverless cars don’t just offer safe transport, it should mean we can get on with other, more important stuff. On average, drivers in the UK spend 32 hours a year stuck in traffic jams. Just think of what you could be doing in a tailback if you didn’t have to concentrate at the wheel. Plus, a car that drives itself could be the ticket to independence for anyone who struggles with a disability that prevents them from driving.

And safety isn’t just about steering the car away from accidents, as some cars can monitor the health of the driver. Work is already well under way at Ford – its Active Health Monitoring System keeps tabs on the driver’s heart rate through sensors in the car seat. If necessary, the seat would send alerts telling the driver to pull over and, worst case, the car could engage other safety systems to pull itself to the side of the road and call the emergency services. If you think it all sounds needlessly fussy, then it’s worth knowing that drivers with heart disease are 23% more likely to be involved in a car accident; that percentage more than doubles to 52% for people with conditions like angina.

Naturally, there are all sorts of questions when it comes to driverless cars, such as ethics and insurance – but that’s for the top bods in car manufacturing and insurance to think about; the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy the ride.


The here and now

Of course, not all of us will have the luxury of top tech in our cars and the reality, right now, is that self-driving actually means just driving yourself. So, while we can dream about the future, it’s the here and now that we need to concentrate on, and being a responsible driver means being insured. So what are you waiting for? Stop daydreaming and start comparing.

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