Car Video Shifts Into High Gear

California and at least 16 other states say it's a crime to install a video monitor in the front of your automobile. Kentucky and Rhode Island have outlawed car video entirely.

There is no question that car videos, like car phones and radar-detection devices, pose definite problems for the driver and those around the car. There is a legitimate fear that drivers will watch the small screen instead of traffic.

But car video is a fact of life in the 1990s, and passing laws against installing in-car video is a bad idea that is not only impractical but devilishly easy to circumvent. Any consumer who really wants to watch TV in the car can bring along a portable VCR-TV. That way no installation is necessary.

But there's an even more important reason to not ban car video. Very soon, a whole array of car-video components will be available that will help people drive more safely. In a few years, the well-equipped automobile will not only feature a moving home entertainment system with video and audio components, a car phone and a radar-detection device, but also any of the following:

-Special cameras and video-audio components that monitor the traffic behind and next to the car. This electronic device will replace the rear-view and side-view mirrors and eliminate those dangerous blind spots that cause so many traffic accidents. In an instant, you and your passengers will be able to see what is going on around the automobile. The device will issue immediate warnings when cars get too close and will even suggest car speed and lane-change information.

-A more sophisticated cruise control that will monitor your speed and the distance from the car in front of you, automatically reducing or increasing your speed as the traffic demands and even activating the anti-lock braking system.

-Electronic road maps that will show you exactly where you are in any given area, pinpointing your exact location, predicting traffic patterns ahead of you and suggesting various routes to your preprogrammed destination.

There's much more on the drawing boards, and most of these devices involve some car-video component. To ban the potential benefits of car video is shortsighted. Car video is here to stay, and more effort and funds should be spent to make car video safer for and more useful to the driver.

Meanwhile, the electronic video industry is moving ahead, creating new video products for the automobile-along with warning that anyone who buys these devices should not install monitors in the front of the car.

Hitachi is leading the field with a videocassette player and a separate five-inch LCD monitor designed specifically for in-car use. It's a nifty unit and is worth checking out. (The cost is less than $2,000.) If not, the Sony Video Walkman (GV-9), with its compact size, four-inch LCD TV and 8mm tapes, works just as well. It costs about $1,500, and you can take it with you anywhere-including the automobile.

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