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Car gadget foolery--Jasmine's Tech Dos & Don'ts

Get schooled by CNET editor Jasmine France. This week: using your gadgets in the car and on the road.

Jasmine's tech dos and don'ts

GPS devices, cell phones, and MP3 players have been coexisting with cars for years, so one might think that people would know by now how to use car tech without irritating and endangering the lives of others. One would be wrong. To that end, several states (six for handheld calling and 22 for texting, to be exact) have passed laws banning various types of cell phone activity while driving.

But tech in the car isn't all bad. Gadgets can provide much-needed directions for exploring a new city or hours of entertainment on lengthy road trips. Sometimes it's hard to imagine how we ever lived without such niceties in our vehicles, though I'm sure many of you remember it as clearly as I do (I went on a lot of road trips when I was young...and played a lot of I SPY*). I would never suggest we ditch car tech, but I can provide tips to keep yourself safe, sane, and entertained on the road.

First, let's get a no-brainer out of the way: DON'T text while driving! No matter what the law in your state says, it's never a good idea to text and drive. In fact, one Car & Driver study found that it's safer to drive drunk, not that I recommend that, either. If you must check a text from someone or shoot off a note of your own, either pull over or wait until you're at a red light. And speaking of obvious: how about you put down that hamburger/cigarette/mascara/infant (!!!) and focus on the freakin' road already.

No, no, no...DON'T! Although I suppose it would at least allow you to say 'but I'm not texting on my phone, officer!'

Also, DO consider purchasing a Bluetooth headset for talking while driving, though I'm not convinced that this necessarily safer than talking on the handset. However, it is the legal route in some states (including CNET's home state), and--hey--at least it comes in handy for other situations, such as yammering on the phone while you prepare dinner or fold the laundry. And while we're still on the topic of cell phones, DO make sure you brush up on the laws of whatever state you're driving in so that you'll avoid tickets--and the unnecessary delays and humiliation caused by local police pulling you over and doling out a lecture.

Of course, phones aren't the only things that can distract you while behind the wheel. Make sure you DON'T input GPS coordinates while driving; instead, have a passenger do it, or program destinations before your trip or while stopped. Also, make sure the GPS is mounted on the windshield or dash at eye-level or, when prohibited, set loud enough that you can hear audio directions. In other words, limit taking your eyes off the road as much as possible.

This same rule of thumb applies to using MP3 players in the car, which in my eyes--naturally--is totally a DO. If you own an iPod, there are several solutions that will charge the player, connect it to the car stereo, and/or hold it at eye-level. You can find chargers for a variety of other MP3 players as well, and there are many FM transmitters that will work with any audio device. Just try not to fiddle with your music player too much, and DO consider picking up one that uses tactile buttons, which allow for blind navigation better than touch screens.

Yes, a definite DO. Seat Buddy

I would be remiss if I left out the importance of passenger comfort and amusement in this little tirade. However, let's not go overboard with the merriment, eh? For example, please DON'T play--ahem--inappropriate content on your seat back screens without the decency to have at least a couple of passengers back there to bock the view. I know of at least three separate accounts of such a phenomenon, so clearly, it's not all that rare.

Now, if your car doesn't already have video screens pre-installed, DO save money and your sanity by checking out seat back holsters for a portable DVD player or video player that you already own. And for the love of all things holy, it does not need to look this ugly. You can get two Seat Buddies for just $30, and attaching them to your vehicle's seat will be a whole lot simpler (and cheaper) than getting getting an in-car video system installed. Plus, such holsters have the added benefit of portability, so you can move them between cars. (The Seat Buddy in particular is cool since it works on planes and at the gym as well.) There are even mounts that will suspend a portable DVD player between seats so those in the back seat can watch content on the same device.

Finally, a bit of an aside for auto manufacturers: DON'T include an in-dash DVD/video player in a two-seater. My friend's Smart Car came with this feature and it just baffles us--it doesn't work while the car is in motion for safety reasons, obviously. But I mean, really--what's the point? Seriously, though...does anyone know? Please enlighten me in the comment section.

*Incidentally, here's a fun fact: my dad had a special version of I SPY where he'd have me identify the model--and sometimes year--of a car by the grille and headlights. Try it with your kids if you want them to know a lot of useless crap about auto manufacturing. And actually, it gave me a respect for cars that influences my driving habits to this day.

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