Saturday, May 07, 2011

Six Essential Driving Tools for the Enthusiast Driver

Six Essential Driving Tools for the Enthusiast Driver

Updated: 23 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

During last week's 2000 plus mile multi-state road-trip, which encompassed the states of PA, WV, OH, KY, MD, VA, DC, DE, and NJ while I was performing a detailed examination of the performance of the newly released Beltronics STiR+, I thought of the tools that I had assembled in my vehicle to aid me to get where I was going safely and surely and...ticket free. I consider these must-have tools.

Essential Driver Tool #1: An internet-connected smartphone (my personal favourite the Apple iPhone 3Gs).

With the plethora of iPhone apps that are available for free coupled with its ability to be connected to the Internet with its data-plan, it is an essential tool which serves as the foundation for the majority of the other tools that I recommend driving with.

Essential Driver Tool #2: Rhapsody music service app.

Driving for me is one of those special pleasures for "quiet" time (assuming wife is not in vehicle). Time to reflect on things in your life, time to get perspective, time to decompress, and time to relax to music. For merely $10 a month, Rhapsody allows for on-demand and commercial-free access to millions of tunes, directly streamed or downloadable for off-network play that coupled with the iPhone, allows for direct connection into your car stereo (for those newer systems capable of such an interface). My particular 99 BMW does not specifically have an AUX input port, however, using a cassette interface works well enough. Building play lists is easy and painless and can be done with a PC from home as well. No more needing to download/pay for MP3s or having the need to carry CDs.

Essential Driver Tool #3: A high-end radar detector.

For me this only means one detector. The Beltronics STiR+. Yes, it is "pricey," but considering the financial penalties associated with moving violations, the STiR+ easily pays for itself in short order. The level of performance achieved with this detector has never been seen before in 30+ years of my driving with radar detectors. This is a must have tool, folks. Other candidates for consideration in this category are: Valentine 1, Escort Redline, Escort Passport 9500ci and on the little more affordable side: Passport 9500ix and Beltronics GX65.

Essential Driver Tool #4: MapQuest 4 Mobile app.

I used to use a Garmin GPS navigation device or the one built into one of my BMWs, but after using this handy little free app, in my opinion all other [dedicated] navigation devices are legacy. This app provides best-in-class turn-by-turn voice-assisted directions, doesn't require large database downloads or DVDs, and always provides the most up-to-date data and easily runs in the background of other multi-tasked iPhone apps.

Essential Driver Tool #5: Signal Active's RadarActive.

I discovered this little gem of an app several months ago and wrote about it extensively. I continue to appreciate its utility as an essential tool for enhancing situational awareness. Optionally packaged for now to work with the V1 (with a hardware module), this free-application should supplement every radar detector regardless of make as it doesn't require connection to one to be extremely useful. It is very easy to report a located speed trap, a traffic-stop, or a known-hideout without the use of a radar detector. In fact, on long trips, just knowing where speed traps tend to be on unfamiliar highways could be sufficient for some who don't wish to drive with a detector. It is that useful.

I found RadarActive on this last trip, especially, to provide the preferred hideout spots along unfamiliar highways. In one instance, RadarActive alerted to an identified speedtrap ahead and an officer was sitting in the precise spot running IO radar (which my detectors did not alert to) as the road was very lightly traveled at the time...the time when a detector owner is most vulnerable to an IO shot.

I am expecting to see some integration of this application into Escort's products in the future, as I understand they expressed an interest in RadarActive after my initial review was published. I only hope that RadarActive will continue to be an open application. If Escort does indeed offer some integration, perhaps incorporating their Trinity/Defender alerts into the application could sufficiently differentiate their version from the standard-for-free application.

One capability that I would like to see added is the ability to have the application run in the background. Even on a multi-tasking OS like IOS 4.x, when the application is not in the foreground, it appears to stop functioning. Meaning Rhapsody and MapQuest have to be the apps relegated to the background, for all of them to work together properly.

The great thing about a crowd-sourced application like RadarActive, the more people who use it regularly, the more useful, accurate, and timely the alerts become. As I wrote before, every driver should be driving with a RadarActive-like application.

Essential Driver Tool #6: GasBuddy app.

Interesting enough, the last time I did a long-distance review (with two earlier M3 remotes), gas prices were above $4/gal. Beyond being able to locate the cheapest gas in any given area, I find this app great for locating gas stations off of the highway in areas I am not familiar with. On more than one occasion on this last trip, I started sucking fumes and no petrol station was to be found. By using GasBuddy, I was able to determine precisely where remote gas stations were, how far they were away, and what the expected price was. This is another crowd-sourced application that should be on everyone's smartphone.
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