A simples guide

Your guide to driving tech

Remember the good old days when we weren’t all glued to our mobile phones and tablets? It really wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t have mobile phones at all, and now so many of us run our lives from them.


Ten years ago a mobile was something kept in a handbag, pocket or glovebox in case of an emergency, like “I’m running late, traffic is awful” or the car breaking down. Most of us didn’t even keep them switched on.


How things have changed. And now they have moved on even further… it’s not just our phones that are geared up with the latest technology. Many of us are driving to work and the supermarket with more on-board car technology than we could have ever imagined, even if we don’t always know how to make the most of it.


So, if in-car technology leaves you baffled, read on for your guide to driving tech. 

What is driving tech?

Essentially, it’s technology in your car that makes driving easier or more pleasurable. It includes some things you’re probably already familiar with like:

1. audio systems (digital radio, CDs, MP3 and Bluetooth)

2. satellite navigation (sat nav)

3. parking sensors 

4. voice control

5. hands-free phone connection

6. parking cameras


With many car systems these features are now all connected and run off one screen or central control panel. For example, your sat nav might be shown and operated from the same screen as your radio and parking sensors.

Phone navigation

Connecting your car

A term cropping up more and more is the ‘connected car’. Connected cars have internet access and some wirelessly connect to local networks. That connection enables the features we mentioned above, as well as updating your satnav, control panel, engine controls and even car diagnosis when there’s a problem. Other terms for connected car technology are info systems or infotainment systems (that’s information mixed with entertainment).

Don’t be put off by the jargon – many of you are probably driving a version of a connected car already. In modern cars, you can link your smartphone to the infotainment systems – so you can play music stored on your phone through your car stereo – if you’re already au fait with your phone’s capabilities. Many of us can also make a call using the car’s control panel screen or voice command, and search for a contact stored on your phone.

A fully connected car (according to the latest definitions) might let you unlock the car from your phone, or check the status of an electric car’s battery remotely. You can also trace the location of the car if someone else is driving it, or even remotely activate the climate control system.

Many car manufacturers make connected cars already or are looking to develop their own models, including all the usual suspects like BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Volkswagen, Volvo… They offer these all-singing, all-dancing new breeds of car. And it’s not just the luxury models, there are often options to include the latest technology in the smallest, cheapest vehicles.

Safety First

So our cars are doing so much more for us today than just getting us from A to B.

You might think being connected is all about making journeys more comfortable and entertaining. But you’d be wrong! There’s more to car tech than entertainment. It’s also at the heart of many safety features which can help all drivers. Some may be particularly useful as we mature.

In car entertainment

There are three main types of safety features with in car tech:

  1. 1.       Passive Information Systems

These could include sat nav, night vision and blind spot detection.

With night vision, your car uses an infrared camera to help identify objects in front of you that are beyond the range of your headlights, and display this on a screen. Blind spot detection sounds or flashes an alert if you’re indicating to change lanes and the car identifies something in your blind spot.

It’s worth noting that some of these systems can be bought as an add-on to your existing car, if you like the idea but aren’t in the market for a new car just yet.

  1. 2.       Semi-autonomous Driver Assistance

This aids the driver by taking some control of the car’s brakes or steering – although they can be overridden by the driver at any time.

Parking assist is an example. Here, you find a suitable space, choose reverse and activate the system. It uses sensors on the side of the car to measure the space. If it’s large enough, the car will automatically steer itself into the slot with you controlling the speed and braking.

Another is emergency brake assist. By interpreting the speed and force with which you push the brake pedal, the system detects if you’re trying to do an emergency stop. If the brake pedal isn’t fully applied, the system overrides and puts on the brakes hard until the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) takes over to stop the wheels locking up.

  1. 3.       Autonomous Vehicle Control and Safety Systems

These are features which take control of the car to avoid or minimise the seriousness of an accident, and can’t be overridden by the driver.

They include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and other crash avoidance systems. The system might use laser technology or radar to detect a potential crash, and either put on the brakes or automatically steer the car out of harm’s way.

From 1 November 2015 AEB is a legal requirement for heavy vehicles in Europe, and a European car body called Euro NCAP suggests that if all cars feature the system, it will reduce accidents by up to 27 percent and save up to 8,000 lives per year. Standard-fit AEB is currently available on 11 per cent of new cars, according to Thatcham Research so if you’re in the market for a new car, have a look at the models with this included. 

Safety and insurance

So clearly these are valuable safety features, and are likely to be installed as standard in more and more cars as time goes on.  In the future if most cars have some of these features, and they reduce the risk of accidents, we could see a very welcome decrease in insurance premiums.

Another great thing about safety features and driving assistance from car tech is that in the future they could have the ability to assist drivers who are less able-bodied, so that driving is more inclusive for disabled and elderly motorists.

Not sure which features you actually have in your car or how to use them? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Around 73 per cent of British adults don’t understand how to use all of their car’s tech features. Yet trends show people are choosing in car tech above performance features when buying their new car. So why not have a look through your handbook to find out exactly what you’ve got? There are also plenty of forums online where you can see some of the features that other owners make the most of.

Car tech – The Future?

Technology can help to make our cars more environmentally friendly and economical too. This is a direction that’s increasingly being explored, with electric and hybrid cars already becoming commonplace on our roads. New developments will continue in this area in the future.

But a much more radical direction for car tech is the driverless car. It may sound like something from a 1960s science fiction film, but it really is within our grasp. Some states in the USA have already passed legislation to allow driverless cars on their roads, and Google has been trialling its own prototype – which has no pedals or a steering wheel – since 2012. Last year the company announced that its cars have completed 1,000,000 miles around the US. While they’re unlikely to become mainstream just yet, they’re definitely on the horizon in the UK.

Cars with no driver – the safer option

While many drivers may not relish the idea of being made redundant, the real long term theory for fully automated cars is that they will be safer.

Can it really be true? It doesn’t seem possible, and yet… did you know that over 90 per cent of car crashes are caused by human error? Only the remaining 10 per cent are caused by other factors like weather conditions and failing car components.

In the last century the enormous and continued rise in car numbers has changed our towns and cities massively. With this growth, both in population and car numbers, came road traffic accidents in depressingly large numbers.

National statistics show that road deaths increased by 3 per cent on British roads in the year ending September 2015, compared with the previous year. During this same period traffic levels rose by just over 2 per cent.

So with traffic on the rise and accidents with it, maybe a future of robotic cars isn’t so bad. Computers can boast faster reaction times than us mere mortals. They won’t be distracted by tuning the radio, programming the sat nav or talking to the grandchildren.

Maybe self-driving cars are the future. Computer systems can react much faster and with less room for error than humans. The result is likely to be far fewer traffic accidents and a reduction in fatalities and injuries when accidents do occur.  

Wherever technology takes us in the future, for now you hopefully have a better idea about car tech. What it is, how it helps you, and how it makes driving safer and more fun!

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