BMW SuperTech's marketing and customer relations manager, Yusuf Moola demonstrates how through hand signals you can work the BMW 760Li's radio and answer your mobile phone, which is enabled by the car's Connected Drive System. PICTURE: SIBONELO NGCOBO/ AFRICAN/NEWS/AGENCY/(ANA)

DURBAN: WON’T it be wonderful when you are no longer stuck in traffic for hours during the working week, or have to continuously circle a busy shopping mall for a parking bay.

If you can afford a “smart car”, your prayers have been answered.

Connected driver technology is alive and flourishing – ready to wash away road-rage tendencies and transform time on the road into sheer driving pleasure.

“Park assist”, “lane keeper assist” and “talking” cars are the latest innovations from some of the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers to keep drivers safe and satisfied.

Through a combination of sensors, cameras, onboard computers and other gadgetry, all linked to the internet, 21st century cars are now able to serve radical, street-talking rides to motorists.

Cameras and sensors fitted to BMW’s 7 Series range and the  Mercedes Benz’s S Class, which beam aerial views of a car’s surrounds, allow drivers to slip perfectly into parking bays every time.

WATCH: BMW SuperTech's marketing and customer relations manager, Yusuf Moola demonstrates how through hand signals you can work the BMW 760Li's radio and answer your mobile phone, which is enabled by the car's Connected Drive System.

Have you ever dozed off at the wheel, to wake as your car veers into the next lane or worse, off the road? That is less likely to happen when you ride in the Opel Astra Hatchback with its “lane-keep assist” feature.

This feature provides steering wheel pushback if the car unintentionally drifts out of a lane without indicating.  

But there is a looming pothole that could widen uncontrollably as connected driver technology gains traction. Modern features of connected driver technology rely heavily on personal information. What happens to the data, mostly related to travel routes, places visited, music choices and other personal preferences, is the billion dollar question?

Data in the wrong hands could have unforeseen consequences, warns US consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

In a recent study,  Monetizing car data, McKinsey & Co states that data from smart cars could be used by hackers to sell personal information, but it also enables advertisers to shape their campaigns around the preferences of motorists.

The study estimated that car data monetizsation could snowball to $750 billion (R1.2 trillion) by 2030.

It said what motorists wanted from their car’s data-enabled features, was safety and convenience. To get these benefits, people are prepared to share personal information, such as their travel routes, favourite hangouts and the music that gets their feet tapping.

“One has to give up some privacy for functionality,” said George Mienie, CE of AutoTrader.

He said park assist was one of his favourite features of smart cars because he preferred the end bays in a parking lot where only one other car could park alongside him.

He said if a smart car is aware of this preference, it can alert him to the presence of an open end bay.

“But in order to get that privilege, you’ve got to give something away to the company that controls the parking lot.

“You have to constantly allow your location to be made available to the company that provides the service,” he said.

Mienie urged customers to pay more attention to the fine print in contracts before signing up for new car deals or added features because they could easily end up unwittingly agreeing to private information being sold to other entities.

He also called for new regulations requiring companies to highlight clauses in contracts.

Attorney Kerri Crawford, a senior associate with law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, said legislation was about to be implemented in Europe to regulate the collecting and sharing of data through connected cars. The European Union’s new general data protection regulation comes into effect on May 25.

In South Africa, the Protection of Personal Information Act, will provide governance, but its  commencement date is yet to be announced, said Crawford.

Amid new laws coming into effect, the motoring industry is gearing up for smarter cars, with Toyota’s “talking car” prototypes mapping the way forward in road travel.

The company’s US factories have planned to produce cars in 2021 that can send information to each other, several times in a second, raising alarms about hazards, accidents and delays and offering drivers alternate routes.

The Opel Astra Hatchback also features multiple driver assistance systems, including “traffic sign assist” that detects signs such as speed limits and forward collision alerts. It uses radar sensors to detect vehicles ahead and automatically applies brakes in an emergency.

On how local drivers are reacting to the latest in car technology, Mienie said: “The demand is not big in South Africa because customers don’t know what to ask for, but it will be more prevalent in the future.”

While the cheapest car with a degree of connectivity is the Renault Kwid Dynamique AMT Auto, which costs R147 900, the sky is the limit thereafter.

Driver technology has certainly come a long way since cruise control.