George Jetson's flying car hasn't hit car showrooms yet, but
there are plenty of other options beginning to make driving as easy
as flying there in a car that folds into a briefcase.
Warning systems have emerged for worries you didn't even know
you had. Cars can parallel park themselves. Some vehicles can even
All of this technology removes some of the burden and worry from
the daily grind. But since many of these features are offered only
in luxury cars, it will be a long time before every driver has
by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that promising
safety technologies typically take three decades to spread to the
cheapest new cars, and at least that long before 95 percent of
vehicles on the road - the bulk of them used cars - have them. For
example, front air bags are only now approaching that 95 percent
And technological safety nannies may be a double-edged sword:
They help you avoid accidents by alerting you to hazards, but they
may also make you lazy by taking over your duties as a driver, some
automotive experts suggest.
Each technology also adds to the sticker price of your new car
and to the price of repairs when you somehow do wind up in a
(and, thus, end up paying more in car insurance premiums as
Here are five technologies beginning to appear on U.S.
1. Self-driving cars.
Nevada is allowing the robotic cars pioneered by Google to have
test runs on the state's roads, with the goal of allowing residents
to legally operate driverless cars in the future. If it's legal in
Nevada, it must be good for the rest of the country, right? The
cars aren't available for sale yet; so far, they are only being
tested. They use radar, global positioning and computer vision to
drive without someone holding the steering wheel. (See "
Self-driving cars: You can text, but you can't
2. Self-parking cars.
The 2012 Ford Focus can
and can help a driver find a parking space to pull into. The driver
doesn't use the steering wheel, but instead puts the car in reverse
and uses the brakes as the car parks itself. Mercedes-Benz has cars
that do the same thing, and BMW's self-parking car can drive itself
into a tight-fitting garage (and out again). The BMW can back
itself out of the garage, but driving out of a tight parking space
may be a new skill drivers will have to learn.
3. Blind-spot monitors.
Mazda has blind-spot monitors on some of its cars that help alert
drivers to cars approaching on the sides by signaling via mirrors
that move, light up and beep. The sound warning can be turned off
in heavy traffic on many of these systems, leaving the blinking
light as adequate warning, says Brandy Schaffels, senior editor at
TrueCar.com, which has written about such safety features.
"It's just in your peripheral vision to let you know that
something is there that you might not have seen," says Schaffels,
who has driven with such monitors.
The rear-facing camera that helps with blind spots behind a car
or truck is becoming more common in new vehicles. The federal
government is preparing to make such cameras mandatory in all new
cars, probably in 2014.
4. Cross-traffic alerts.
Backing out of a parking space between two minivans can be a test
of nerve and patience. Some Ford cars employ the same radar used in
catching blind spots to pick up a car moving at least 5 mph within
a 45-foot range -- or five parking spaces -- from the side.
Warnings are given with an indicator light on the outside mirror,
an audible alert and message center text warning.
5. Lane-departure warning.
Cameras behind a rearview mirror monitor lane markings; if your car
strays, a rumbling steering wheel can subtly alert you, says
Schaffels, who has driven cars with such warning systems. It's like
having Botts' dots in your steering wheel. To help prevent a driver
from oversteering back into their lane, some systems slowly brake
the car to help pull the car back into the lane.
But will they help?
Not everyone is a fan of these new technologies. Since most
accidents are due to driver error rather than the car itself, the
money spent on technology add-ons is better spent on taking an
advanced driving course, says Carroll Lachnit, features editor at
John Bowman, spokesperson for the National Motorists
Association, agrees. "The driver gives up a certain autonomy and
control" with some of these technologies, Bowman says. He adds that
it's a mistake to let such features lull you into a false sense of
Too many flashing lights, beeping warnings and screens to watch
can be distracting, says Jamie Lincoln Kitman, who writes about
cars for National Public Radio's "Car Talk."
"I think there's way too much going on inside cars," Kitman says
of existing technology."Everything that you do introduce that tends
to eliminate driver responsibility is probably dangerous."
Even George Jetson should check his mirrors for approaching