Picture the scene: You are driving late at night in an unfamiliar location. You had no time to buy a map and are plainly lost and tired. The fuel gauge is dangerously low so you have no room for navigational errors.
If you're driving a new Ford Mondeo or Focus, you could be in luck. One of the options offered by 'fordtelematics' system, is the "in-car personal assistant" button that puts you through to an operator who will instantly pin-point the location of your car and guide you to a petrol station or wherever you need to go. At 75p a minute this is the deluxe feature of system that has four main options. The telematics system, through a built-in microphone and the car's stereo system, acts as a hands-free mobile for this function.
Other features include real-time traffic information at 45p per minute and voice-activated dialling. An SOS button connects the car to an emergency services operator -- if the airbags are set off then the system makes this call automatically.
Fordtelematics, which was developed with Vodafone, is a £600 optional extra on new Mondeo and Focus models. It will be available as a factory-fitted option on other Ford models in the future, but the companies said they are not planning to offer the package as an add-on for existing cars.
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Mondeo and Focus models that come with the Ford Telematics system have a SIM card built into the dashboard; Vodaphone owners can set up the car so that it shares the same number as their phone.
On the Ford Focus and Ford Mondeo, fordtelematics is available on the 5000 radio, 500 radio with CD-autochanger and the 6000 and 6006. Additionally fordtelematics is also available on the Ford Travelpilot navigation system on both the Ford Focus and Ford Mondeo. In the Ford Mondeo, fordtelematics is also available on the VNR navigation system.
Kathryn Lees, Director of Telematics, Ford Motor Company, said this is just the start. "We're already working on email and text messaging, plus business and fleet management services. In the future, the system could be even more interactive -- for example, you could access the Internet from screens in every car to order your weekly shopping online, avoiding that trip to the supermarket."
Research from the Transport Research Laboratory has indicated that drivers using mobile phones, including hands-free kits, had slower reaction times. The research said reaction times were, on average, 30 percent slower when talking on a mobile than when just over the legal alcohol limit, and nearly 50 percent slower than when driving normally.
The Labour MP for Rosendale and Darwen, Janet Anderson, is currently working on a bill which would ban the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. She welcomed the report findings, and told the BBC: "We must all recognise that driving and using mobile phones can kill. It takes less than a split second for a lapse in concentration to result in an accident".
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