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New In-Car Technology Aims to Keep Drivers Safe This Summer

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author photo by Lindsay Martell April 2013

It may be a little too early to start stocking up on juice boxes and trail mix for summer road trips, but it's the perfect time to check out new in-car technology aimed at keeping you safe on the highway.

You know that anything that diverts your gaze from the road -- be it refereeing a screaming match between your kids, punching the scan button on your radio, or texting -- is dangerous, but navigating the ins and outs of unknown streets in a strange city is no easy feat without taking a gander at your GPS device. Fortunately, those wayward glances may be a thing of the past, thanks to a souped-up wheel with built-in navigation.

German researchers have developed a steering wheel prototype that places navigation right at your fingertips -- no need to sneak a peek at a device by your side, or on your dash.

With the help of pre-programmed gestures (like pinching two fingers in order to zoom), drivers use their thumbs to move across the surface of the wheel in order to navigate a map or control the radio.

Dr. Albrecht Schmidt, a computer scientist at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, led the team who built the prototype. He sums up the benefits of the tech like this: "The advantage of using space on the steering wheel is that the buttons or thumbwheels are very close to the driver's hand so there is no need to move the hand away from the steering wheel, improving safety."

When studying the impact of driving performance, researchers found the wheel significantly slashed "gaze time" required to operate controls.

The technology is still in the development stage, so we probably won't see multi-touch steering wheels in new cars for quite some time. But anything that cuts back on dangerous, wayward glances behind-the-wheel is worth waiting for.

Another potentially scary reality of summer road trips is tossing back a few and getting behind the wheel.

Of course, road tripping wouldn't be the same without stopping to savor local eats at every pit stop, but imbibing en route should be a big no-no. Fortunately, testing to see if you've had too much to drink will soon be a matter of plugging a tiny device into your phone and exhaling.

The Breathometer, the world's first smartphone breathalyzer, is roughly the size of a typical car key. It fits into a headphone jack, and -- working in conjunction with a mobile app -- transforms your iPhone or Android into a breathalyzer, measuring blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

The Burlingame, Calif., based company conducted a survey and discovered some sobering numbers: 64 percent of respondents indicated that they have either driven while intoxicated or have been in a car with a driver under the influence.

"Breathometer wasn't created just to address the risks associated with drinking and driving," said Charles Michael Yim, founder and CEO of Breathometer, "but to help people, their friends and family, all to make smart and safer choices when consuming alcohol."

The device will be available this summer at Breathometer.com, the Apple App Store and Google Play. So while you are packing your cooler with goodies, you can also get your hands on some new in-car technology that may curb driving disasters.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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New In-Car Technology Aims to Keep Drivers Safe This Summer - Autotrader