By Carlo Longino, Thu Jul 19 00:00:00 GMT 2001

Telematics promise to bring communications technology into the car. But at what price? Safety?

One of the foremost pipe dreams of wireless technology is the tricked-out, Net-enabled, telematicized automobile. Perhaps it's because modern life for many of us includes quite a bit of time spent sitting in traffic, time given away to frustration and inefficiency, not to mention boredom.

It's estimated that in the United States alone, people spend a combined 500 million hours in their car each week, or over 25 billion hours each year. It's hard to quantify the going value of somebody's time, but at the current US minimum wage (USD 5.15 per hour), that's almost USD 130 billion a year. Sure, perhaps the 10 minutes I spend driving to the grocery store can't be helped much, but to the salesman or executive who spends upwards of an hour each morning and evening commuting to and from work, that time certainly is money.

But the days of balancing a mobile phone in one hand, a PDA in the other and steering with your knees at 70 miles an hour are coming to an end. Communications technology aims to incorporate entertainment and productivity into the automobile, while changing local laws mandate they do it safely.

Off and running

The telematics and in-car electronics industry is already off and running. American parents can buy Carlo Longino is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. His previous experience includes work for The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, and Hoover's Online. He doesn't hold much hope for m-commerce as long as his mobile carrier can't even get voice calls right.