Google Announces New Self-Driving Car Prototype Fleet


If you could buy one of Google's all-new cars on a dealer lot, you wouldn't have to wonder how much that optional heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel is going to set you back — because there is no steering wheel. Or gas pedal. Or foot brakes. The prototype fleet of electric-powered, entirely self-driving cars announced Tuesday by the Silicon Valley-based tech giant — which has been developing autonomous-car technology for years — is expected to begin testing by year's end.

Driverless Cars Before Decade's End? Developers Say So

According to USA Today, the fleet of as many as 200 prototype two-seaters is part of Google's efforts to "reengineer transportation." In lieu of conventional human-controlled driving mechanisms, the new car instead uses sensors and software to avert danger, the newspaper reported. The prototype currently has a top speed of only 25 mph (no word on its zero-to-25 mph sprint time) and has been involved in no accidents yet, USA Today said.

By Matt Schmitz | May 28, 2014 | Comments (5)

By-the-Mile Car Insurance Targets Urban Drivers


Denizens of dense urban areas typically don't drive as much as their suburban and rural counterparts. Factors such as heavy traffic and expensive parking discourage driving, especially when public transportation and other convenient options exist, in addition to closer proximity to destinations like supermarkets, schools and offices. While many city dwellers still own, or would like to own, a car, paying similar insurance premiums as someone who drives everywhere all the time might not seem like it makes much economic sense.

App Helps Urban Drivers Avoid Street-Sweeping Tickets

But what if you could pay by the mile to insure your car, so that you're only ponying up for what you need when you need it? That's just what the San Francisco-based MetroMile allows motorists to do, and its business model caters to just the sort of driver described above. Already available in states including California, Washington and Oregon, MetroMile expanded to Illinois just this March, and a survey conducted of Chicago-area motorists illustrates why.

By Matt Schmitz | May 2, 2014 | Comments (3)

Distracted Driving Apps Step in When Willpower Fails


As we near the end of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, by now you've likely heard at least some of the many statistics showing how smartphone use while driving is fraught with danger for motorists, their passengers and everyone around them. Authorities cited distracted driving as the cause of more than 3,300 deaths nationwide in 2012 and thousands more injuries. Surveys show that drivers recognize the danger of distracted driving, and 43 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving, yet large percentages of drivers, including roughly three-quarters of teens and other young drivers, continue to do so anyway.

Distracted Driving Campaign Targets 'Big Fat Myth' of Hands-Free Safety

As a nation of motorists in a climate of nearly continuous connectivity, we have not been successful in putting down our personal devices long enough to get from point A to point B, even under threat of death or serious injury. For those of us who know better, but just can't seem to police ourselves or our driving-age children while behind the wheel, a market has emerged for apps and other measures that do our distracted-driving policing for us.

By Matt Schmitz | April 30, 2014 | Comments (0)

Nissan Demonstrates Smart Rearview Mirror

While the very purpose of a rearview mirror is to see what's behind you, Nissan is looking ahead. The Japanese automaker demonstrated a prototype of its Smart Rearview Mirror during the 2014 New York International Auto Show, and reviewer Kelsey Mays was there to check it out. The system works similarly to a conventional backup camera, but instead broadcasts unobstructed real-time images to the driver's rearview mirror at the flip of a switch. Catching a glimpse of the newfangled mirror in a mass-produced car is years off, so for now get Mays' reflections by watching the video above.

More 2014 New York Auto Show Coverage

By Matt Schmitz | April 29, 2014 | Comments (7)

Truly Remote Start Impresses in 2014 Chevrolet Impala


Regular readers are probably just as tired of us talking about Chicago's polar vortex winter as we are tired of persistent cold temperatures. If there's one car feature we can point to that made one of the area's coldest and snowiest winters on record more bearable, it's the remote engine starting system on our 2014 Chevrolet Impala long-term tester.

More on Our Long-Term Fleet

The Impala's remote start is a factory-installed feature included in the $1,095 navigation and stereo package or $940 Convenience Package. Time and time again, the Impala's remote start would fire up the engine at surprisingly long distances or from well inside a house, which beat having to crack the front door and hold the key fob outside like other systems we've tested.

By Joe Bruzek | April 15, 2014 | Comments (3)

Nissan's Smart Rearview Mirror Improves Rear Visibility


Come 2016 or 2017, Nissan could have a better rearview mirror in some of its cars. After an initial rollout to its racecars and Japan-market vehicles, the automaker plans to introduce its new Smart Rearview Mirror to global markets over the next few years. The SRM uses a high-res rearview camera to overlay what's behind you — in real time — in the conventional rearview mirror. Drivers can alternate between the mirror and the monitor with a switch on the bottom of the mirror frame.

Which Small SUV Has the Best Rear Visibility?

If it works, the technology could free drivers from the compromised sightlines that short rear windows, large rear head restraints or bulky C- and D-pillars create. It also means big Uncle Eddy could sit in back without blocking three interstate lanes.

But execution matters in a huge way.

By Kelsey Mays | April 14, 2014 | Comments (3)

Texting-While-Driving Consequences Vary by State


Generally speaking, a moving violation is when a driver breaks the law while their vehicle is in motion. Examples of patently dangerous actions include driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding and running a stop sign. But what about texting while driving? Undercover: Texting While Driving Rampant

That indisputably risky variety of distracted driving that puts drivers' eyes on their smartphone screens and their thumbs on the digital keys — and only a portion of their attention on the road — has been shown to directly correlate with accidents. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that a texting driver is 23 times more likely to crash, a major contributor to the thousands of distracted-driving deaths that occur each year.

By Matt Schmitz | April 11, 2014 | Comments (3)

Distracted Driving Campaign Targets 'Big Fat Myth' of Hands-Free Safety


Safety advocates want motorists to pay attention to the dangers of distracted driving. As April is designated Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the century-old Itasca, Ill.-based National Safety Council has released a new poll showing that 80 percent of drivers across the U.S. believe hands-free devices are safer than using a handheld phone while behind the wheel. The group believes this not to be the case. Meanwhile, among motorists reporting using hands-free devices while driving, 70 percent said they do so for safety reasons.

More Safety News on

"While many drivers honestly believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device, it's just not true," said David Teater, the NSC's senior director of transportation initiatives. "The problem is the brain does not truly multitask. Just like you can't read a book and talk on the phone, you can't safely operate a vehicle and talk on the phone."

By Matt Schmitz | April 10, 2014 | Comments (5)

Fiat Updates 500 Lineup for 2015


Visitors to the 2014 New York International Auto Show this month will find a 2015 Fiat 500 lineup with updated offerings inside, outside and under the hood. Perhaps the most significant among these is a newfangled gauge cluster with a 7-inch high-definition display, which will be standard on the 2015 Fiat 500 Sport, Lounge, Turbo and Abarth models, and optional on the Pop. Meanwhile, the performance-focused Abarth, Abarth Cabrio and Turbo models will offer a new six-speed automatic transmission.

More 2014 New York Auto Show News

Fiat says the new Thin Film Transistor, or TFT, instrument cluster allows drivers to more easily monitor data including speed, fuel level, Eco index and trip info. On the main screen, an image of the vehicle is surrounded by info such as distance traveled, gas mileage and range; other display options include audio and phone screens showing station and call info, respectively. For models equipped with rear parking assist, a screen shows drivers their backup camera view.

By Matt Schmitz | April 7, 2014 | Comments (5)

App Helps Urban Drivers Avoid Street-Sweeping Tickets


You thought to yourself, "This is too good to be true," last night when you pulled into that parking space right in front of your building. After all, you live on a crowded street in a crowded neighborhood in a crowded city and normally have to circle the block at least three times. Yet there was a curbside space so big you maneuvered into it nose first. And why not? Everyone lucks out and snags a sweet spot once in a while, right? Actually, maybe not. See, what you did was park on the side scheduled for overnight street sweeping, and then you were greeted by a nice fat ticket when you left for work the next day.

More Car Gadgets News on

And so goes the plight of the urban-dwelling car owner. If you are one, you've likely experienced any number of similar scenarios, from snow tow zones to construction parking bans to parade routes; street-sweeping-related parking tickets rank among the most common. According to pay-per-mile car-insurance provider MetroMile, it was the most frequently issued of all tickets in San Francisco in 2011, at $60 a pop costing the city's drivers $29 million. But the story should be relatable to motorists in other congested metropolises like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago where parking is tight and warning signs confusing.

To help drivers avoid getting cleaned out by street-sweeping tickets, MetroMile has developed a smartphone app that warns parking motorists. Working in tandem with the company's connected-car device, the Metronome, which plugs into a vehicle's OBD-II port, the app uses onboard GPS to note the location of the parked vehicle. If it's in a street-sweeping zone, the app will send a push notification 12 hours ahead of the sweeping schedule and a reminder an hour before.

By Matt Schmitz | April 4, 2014 | Comments (3)

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