Until now the mobile internet has been exclusive to top-end luxury vehicles that cost up to $200,000. The distributor says it's not a road safety concern because it can't be used while the car is moving. But drivers who use the system in traffic face fines up to $300.
The display unit - made by French company Parrot and available in three sizes - can be fitted to almost any car and replaces the radio. It connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and uses a smartphone's internet connectivity for social media, email and web browsing, as well as navigation and other driving applications.
''It's safer than holding a phone because it is properly located in the dashboard,'' Frederic Albinet, marketing manager for Parrot told News Limited. ''It's the extension of the smartphone. With this kind of device you can make sure you're not handling the phone while driving.''
The unit has built-in Android applications, but is also compatible with Apple iPhones and other smartphone operating systems. But in NSW drivers risk a $298 fine and three demerit points if they use the internet or social media while in stop-start traffic - even via the unit's built-in touch screen.
''Even if you're stopped in the traffic you're still driving because the vehicle is not parked, so it would be illegal to use,'' said Assistant Commissioner NSW Police Traffic Services Commander John Hartley. According to rule 299, ''drivers must not operate a visual display unit in or on a moving vehicle or while it's stationary but not parked.''
Parrot says it is not possible for drivers to ''hot-wire'' the system to enable drivers to search the internet when the car is moving. ''There is a cable connected to the brake pedal, plus the system has a built-in GPS. If the system detects that car is moving, it will disable the internet and social media,'' says Albinet. The top of the range touchscreen model costs $1000 and is available with steering wheel control buttons for another $100.
Rival car audio company Pioneer released a unit in June that connects with Apple applications but not the internet. ''Smartphone is king and consumers are asking for more and more,'' says Pioneer media manager Michael Broadhurst.
''It's a fine line. Consumers want to do more in the car but we're trying to balance that with safety.'' Broadhurst said not all Apple applications work with the Pioneer system. 'It's not a focus for us to bring in apps that are going to distract the driver,'' he said. ''It's about ways to enhance the driving experience and make things easier and less distracting.
''If people are desperate to Google, there's nothing to stop them using their phone now. So we need to find better alternatives.'' The Pioneer system will be compatible with Android phones in Australia next year.