Hands-free internet technology could be installed in cars by 2014

Technology that will allow drivers to connect to the internet by voice commands could be installed in new cars as soon as next year.

Dashboards and onboard computers could soon be fitted with screens that allow drivers to connect to the worldwide web from behind the wheel.

Based on the technology used in smart phones and tablets, the 'connected' car equipment could help spark a billion pound investment in vehicle design.

"By the end of 2014, for some of the bigger brands, every vehicle they sell will offer some sort of connectivity," Jack Bergquist, from information company IHS, said.

Mr Bergquist said that over half of all motorists would be attracted to owning a vehicle with internet capability.

The hands-free compatibility of the technology will allow drivers to update social networking sites, search for local amenities, such as restaurants and petrol stations, and book hotels from behind the wheel.

'On screen' information would be read back to the driver via the on-board device.

Many major car manufacturers are investing as much as a third of their annual budgets on improving in-car entertainment and technology.

German brands Audi, Mercedes and BMW are thought to be at the forefront of implementing the latest technological advancement in their luxury vehicle range.

Computer giant Intel has already pledged £64 million of investment over the next five years towards developing in-car internet technology.

According to the BBC, only mobile phone and tablet innovation is advancing at a greater rate than in-car technology.

However safety groups have criticised the equipment, saying that it increases the risks to safety by creating another distraction for drivers.

"The danger is safety. You could get caught up your experience and forget that you're driving," John Ellis, global technologist from Ford, told the BBC. "Better, faster cheaper is what consumers want - but with safety."

Around a quarter of all road traffic accidents in the US are caused by mobile phones.

However, Jack Bergquist argues that voice activated internet technology could even help to improve car safety, suggesting that most people flaunt the mobile phone ban and continue to use their phones behind the wheel.

"You can't stop people from doing this but car manufacturers are able to create a system that is a million times safer than people updating Facebook on a phone in their laps," he said.

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