Get tech, go

A new range of gadgets make driving easy and safe, says John R Quain

There is a growing opinion that apps may turn out to be as risky as drinking to drivers. Both make them take their eyes away from where they should be: on the road. But not all technology is injurious to drivers’ health.  There are gadgets as varied as high-tech collision warning systems and phone-related devices, which prevent driver distraction and promote safe driving.

Cellphone control

A recent Consumer Reports survey of drivers ages 16 to 21 found that while about 80 percent of respondents agreed that texting while driving was dangerous, roughly 30 percent conceded that they had done it.

Although a variety of sophisticated solutions have been developed to prevent people from calling and texting while driving, most are easy to defeat or are overly restrictive. The Scosche Cellcontrol is an exception.

It starts with a $129.95 (Rs 7,256) matchbox-size device that plugs into the OBD-II diagnostics port found under the dashboard of cars made after 1996. In conjunction with an app downloaded to the user’s Android or BlackBerry phone, it senses when the car is moving and, via Bluetooth, automatically locks out certain functions, including texting, email and Web browsing. It recognises when a car is parked and will allow phone calls when a hands-free device is connected. It does not work with iPhones.

If your young driver tries to circumvent it by unplugging the dongle, Cellcontrol will alert you that the system has been disabled. Unlike some other cellular lockout solutions, it will not block other phones in the car. So a passenger could still place a call. It also will not inadvertently block calls from, for example, a bus or train, because it works only in conjunction with the Cellcontrol device.

GPS tracking

The trouble with most tracking gadgets is that they rely on battery power, which means you have to remember to charge them and put them back in the car. PocketFinder Vehicle can be installed under the hood, attached to the car battery and forgotten.

Using a Web browser, owners can see the car’s location, speed, and travel history on the PocketFinder service. The software allows parents to set travel boundaries and speed limits for young drivers. If they are exceeded, a text or email will be sent to the parents.
The initial cost is $189.95 ( 10,605) and the monthly fee is $12.95 ( 725).

Radar and red lights

Cobra Electronics has updated its Cobra iRadar model, now the $129.95 ( 7,256) iRAD 200. It is a low-profile dashboard detector of radar and laser traps.

Using a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone and a free iRadar app (for Android and iPhone models), it also alerts drivers to red light cameras. Fellow Cobra users can report police actions, accidents and new photo enforcement spots. The iRadar can also be set to automatically report laser alerts and share them with other iRadar owners.


In spite of the many navigation apps for smartphones, portable navigation devices are not obsolete – yet. TomTom has added features that socially conscious travellers will appreciate.

The reasonably priced $249.95 ( 13,954) TomTom Go Live 1535M, for example, includes live traffic reports updated every two minutes. The service has the added benefit of gathering speed and location data in real time from other TomTom owners so that it can alert you to new congestion ahead and reroute you around it.

New to this model is a suite of travel related apps, including Yelp and TripAdvisor for restaurant reviews and local recommendations. Updated fuel prices and weather information are also available. After the first year, Live services can be continued for $59.95 ( 3,348) a year.

Collision and lane monitors

The latest technologically equipped vehicles offer advanced safety features, like collision and lane departure warnings. Now an ingenious app can add these functions to any car by using a smartphone with a camera.

Called iOnRoad Augmented Driving Pro, the $4.99 ( 279) program uses a phone’s video camera stream, GPS feature, accelerometer and gyroscope to monitor the car’s position on the road. A car cradle mount, which typically costs $20 ( 1,116) to $30 ( 1,674), is required for the phone. A power adapter cable is recommended to keep it charged.
The main benefit of the app is its ability to measure a car’s distance from vehicles ahead.

The stopping distance is displayed on a live video feed and is measured in seconds (or feet if you choose), progressing from green to yellow (warning) to red when you get too close. Drift too close to a line, and it will flash a lane departure warning up on the phone’s display.

At its best, iOnRoad can promote better driving habits and prevent you from becoming an anxious tailgater. However, the alerts could make inexperienced drivers jumpy. It erroneously warned me, for example, that I was drifting out of my lane on several curves. It also failed to pick out a motorcycle ahead of me at night.

Tablet holders

Do not neglect passengers in the back seat. For them, entertainment is no longer about DVD players. It is all about iPads and tablets.

A number of holders, cradles and brackets are made for specific models. A better option is the adjustable Satechi Cup Holder Mount. Its base expands to snugly fit various cup holder sizes, while its clamps adjust to hold 7-to 10-inch tablets in place.

Two adjustable pivots can put the tablet in variety of positions, and the package includes a second smaller bracket for smartphones. It is a handy car accessory for just $29.99 ( 1,674). Just remember to keep it in the back seat.

Comments (+)