Automotive developers and designers could easily have had Houstonians in mind when they were perfecting the impressive new tools and gadgets now hitting the market. These high-tech advancements aim to not only improve driver safety, but keep us entertained and make our commute more comfortable—meaning that brutally long drive down I-45 is getting slightly less awful all the time. 

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1. Driver Safety

Tools for texting and browsing social media by voice are becoming standard on new vehicles, as are crash-avoidance and lane-keeping systems that aim to prevent smart phone–related accidents, which now cause 25 percent of all wrecks, according to a recent study conducted by the National Safety Council. 

Mercedes-Benz has even created software to help prevent crashes resulting from driver fatigue, also a common cause of serious highway accidents. Called Attention Assist—a unique, adaptive system that tracks driving habits, looking for signs of drowsiness—it sets a baseline for the driver in the first few minutes of a trip, then compares that baseline to subsequent driving patterns. If the software recognizes any erratic behavior, alarms sound and lights flash.

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2. “Infotainment” Systems

The 2016 models of vehicles as diverse as the Cadillac Escalade and the Honda Accord will offer the ability to merge a phone’s suite of apps with their built-in entertainment features. Just download Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, then connect your phone to your car, and all of your apps will appear, navigable by touch screen. Want to avoid fumbling with a touch-screen display? Many new vehicles also feature steering-wheel controls.

If you want to ask Apple’s Siri a question, she’s available. If you’re lost, you can easily access your phone’s built-in map technology. And if you want to stream music, today’s high-tech cars usually include advanced audio systems.

3. Comfort and Convenience

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Acura’s traffic avoidance system is more than a map. Part of the AcuraLink suite of control options, it relays traffic information to the car in real time, proposing new routes around highway snarls. (Considering the explosion of highway construction and frequent freeway closures in Houston, this feature alone might be worth the car’s purchase price.)

Outside of helping drivers avoid traffic headaches, car companies such as BMW and Volvo are constantly looking for ways to make driving their cars a more pleasant experience. Look for everything from self-parking for the parallel-space-challenged to air-conditioned seats (yes, please!) to app-based remote controls (see left), which give drivers the option of starting and even cooling the inside of a car at the touch of a button. It’s almost like these car designers lived in Houston in August.…

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