Smart cars could still use work

Apple’s new iPhone 4S has Siri, a virtual assistant that can tell you the weather, set alarms and reminders, and even look up the Dow Jones Industrial Average — all at the prompt of your voice.

A few months ago, IBM’s Watson wiped the floor with former Jeopardy! champs, no small feat for a computer. As famous champ Ken Jennings noticed, it was impressive because when Alex Trebek would say, “Blondie,” Watson had to determine if he was talking about a cookie, a music group or a comic strip.

Now that we have this technology on our phones and our game shows, why do we happily settle for decades-old technologies in our cars?

Buick marketed the first turn signal in 1938, and the headlights and horn have been around plenty longer than that. I’m not sure about you, but I think 73 years is long enough to wait for upgraded driver notification.

My friend was running some errands a few days ago. Her music was on full volume, and the sun was right in her face. Those two distractions were enough to distract her from her blinker, which stayed on for an extended period of time.

Friends told her everybody does it, which is true. But I added that there needs to be a universal way to tell another driver. I’ve tried honking and using the same blinker, in hopes they’ll see me and realize what they’re doing. That works maybe 50 percent of the time, though. The rest of the time, I’ve only led the driver behind me to think, “That idiot needs to stop honking and realize his blinker’s on.”

Here are some other scenarios for which our cars have no notification, and the “hand signal” (you know which one) falls woefully short:

• “Your gas cap is open.” The cute girl in the other lane tried to yell at me about it, but I couldn’t hear her. Until I got home, I thought she had a crush on me, and I was trying to read her lips from my memory. Was it a phone number? Was it a compliment? Oh … gas cap. Dang.

• “No, YOU go…” Sometimes it’s better to let the other driver go first. Maybe you have to adjust your seatbelt or your air conditioner. If only this exchange didn’t count on them seeing your “after you” signal 40 feet away.

• “Do you mind? I’m looking for something.” That girl you like just invited you to a small party at her friend’s house. But it’s a street you’ve never been on, and it’s 9 p.m. and kind of dark outside. And now you’re looking for small street sign, and then the house number or the curb painting — and the whole ordeal’s a lot harder because the driver behind you thinks the speed limit is the MINIMUM speed you should be driving.

• “Sorry.” That guy cut you off? It’s amazing how angry you are right now. But what if that guy just said, “I’m sorry, I was completely in the wrong,” before he drove off? Bet your road rage would go away a lot faster. And I bet another driver would be less angry if you could apologize for cutting him off.

When we hear the term “smart car,” we think of fuel economy, dashboard tools and other things it can do for us. Maybe we can create smarter cars that works for everybody — driver, passenger and fellow motorist alike.