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The car with a will of its own

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Using satellite navigation to control congestion sounds futuristic. But, as Dave Parker explains, the reality is just a few years away.

A CAR that 'knows' where it is at all times can do more than guide its driver across London. Programmed with enough data, it can also prevent drivers exceeding the local speed limit - or of course deny access to a toll bridge or motorway without confirmation that the appropriate fee has been paid.

Satellite-based navigation - GPS - is the key to these technologies. Eventually, the planned network of toll gantries on motorways will become redundant, thanks to the increasing accuracy and affordability of the systems.

Fitting a GPS 'satnav' system as standard makes increasing sense to car manufacturers. Within five years, all new cars will have totally electronic dashboards featuring one display screen giving all the information the driver may require. These will be cheaper to install than lots of separate dials and warning lights and adding satnav capability will cost so little extra that all manufacturers will offer it as standard.

Air conditioning went the same way. A few years ago 'climate control' was an expensive luxury. Now it costs less to fit than an electric sunroof/ heater/air vent combination, and will be standard on all cars within a year or two.

The satnav system will probably have a discreet dashboard slot for pre- paid toll tickets. Knowing how much credit is left, the car will either refuse to enter a tolled section of road or insist on the driver leaving the road before his credit runs out.

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