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Peter DeMarco | Who taught you to drive?

All I want for Christmas . . . for my car

Imagine how the Bay State’s roadside landscape would be improved by signposts similar to the one alerting travelers to the attractions in Louhans, in France’s Burgundy region.

Santa Claus doesn’t have to dodge potholes, battle rush-hour traffic, or stop for red lights. If only we could all drive flying sleighs, commuting might actually be a joy.

That’s not happening, of course. But there’s more to my holiday gift list than eight tiny reindeer. Here are three driving-related wishes, all far more grounded, that I’d love to see come true.

Magic blinkers

I’ll never understand drivers who don’t signal before turning: all it takes is a flick of the wrist. It’s about the easiest motion in the world, short of the car actually signaling by itself.

Hey, there’s a thought.


Your car’s GPS navigation system warns you of upcoming turns. How hard would it be for the GPS system to also message your vehicle’s computer to click on a turn signal?

I posed the question to Jim Buczkowski, director of research and advanced engineering at Ford Motor Co.

“The ability to do that is very feasible,’’ he told me. “The only hiccup would be if you don’t follow the route.’’

To automate signaling, your car’s navigation system would need to be wired to the vehicle’s body control module, which coordinates several car functions, including lighting, Buczkowski said.

Additional engineering would be required to make it compatible with a third-party GPS system, such as Garmin or TomTom. But with enough effort, that could be done, he said.

What’s more, it might be possible to automate signaling even when you aren’t using a GPS system.

A number of new cars are equipped with technology that senses when a driver starts to accidentally veer out of a marked travel lane. The car then reacts by audibly warning the driver to straighten the wheel.

That same system could be reconfigured to sense when a driver is deliberately sliding into an adjacent lane, Buczkowski said, and automatically turn on a directional signal.


The signal would probably come on too late to forewarn drivers in the lane next to your car, but it could help others on the road if you were sliding over multiple lanes to get to an exit ramp.

Buczkowski, a 32-year Ford employee who’s been honored as a Henry Ford Technical Fellow, leads a team that works on ideas such as automating signals “all the time,’’ he said. I’m not the first to suggest it, either. “It has to be one of my pet peeves, too,’’ he said.

So if the technology’s there, what’s stopping us? Alas, Buczkowski said, customers are not clamoring for such a feature.

Without demand, there’s little incentive for Ford or another carmaker to develop it.

Enchanting signs

Driving through France this summer, my girlfriend Laura and I couldn’t get over how cool road signs were for cities and towns. Huge, artistic billboards displaying something the community was known for: a sandy beach, a castle, a horse-racing track, you name it.

The signs provided real flavor about the regions we were passing through, and I couldn’t help but imagine what similar one would look like at home.

A House of the Seven Gables graphic for Salem; a shipyard for Quincy; folk singers for Lowell; a Marshmallow Fluff jar for Somerville; and so on.

Through the help of my friend Nate, who is fluent in French, I was able to track down a government official to ask about the signs.


“It goes back to 1972,’’ e-mailed Marina Louvet, a press officer with France’s Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing. “In order to break the monotony of traveling on a highway and to reduce the risk of drowsiness, the Rhone Valley Highway Society suggested [the signs] to ‘liven up’ the trip by drawing attention to the cultural and touristic sites in the regions.’’

France now has 2,500 such highway signs, she told me. Until 2009, a national commission on tourism approved individual signs, but over the past two years local communities have had more control, working with highway officials to get their signs erected, Louvet wrote.

She couldn’t say how much each sign cost. My guess is that Massachusetts cities and towns would have to raise their own funds to erect signs, given the economy.

But that could be a fun thing, with contests for designs and fund-raisers to pay for them, in the spirit of community pride.

A little grace

Boston has unveiled a new parking debit card that you swipe through a slot on the meter both when you leave your car and when you return. Instead of estimating how many coins to put in the meter, you pay only for the period the car is parked there; the fee is automatically deducted from your account based on the time between swipes.

I like the idea, but there’s something that could make the cards even better.


How many times have you seen someone get a parking ticket just minutes after his meter has expired? Or maybe that’s happened to you - you race to get back to your car, but the ticket is already on the windshield, the ink barely dry.

My idea: Incorporate a grace period into the debit-card system during which you’re charged $1 for each minute you go past the meter’s stated time limit.

If you’re five minutes late, you pay $5 more. Ten minutes, $10. You keep adding dollars until you’ve reached the amount of a parking ticket, which in Boston would be $25.

To me, a grace period benefits everyone. I’d much rather pay an extra $5 than find a ticket on my windshield.

Cities and towns would still make their money, collecting a few dollars from multiple meters as opposed to one lump sum from one overdue meter. And of course, there’d be a whole lot less fighting over tickets.

“It’s an interesting idea,’’ said Tracey Ganiatsos, a spokeswoman for Boston’s Transportation Department. “But we don’t develop our own technology. You’d have to contact the parking-meter companies to see if they could design it.’’

MacKay Meters, a Canadian company that sold Boston its new debit-card parking meters, turned out to be a grinch, never returning my phone calls. So like all my ideas, alas, it’s in Santa’s hands now.

I just hope he reads the paper.

Peter DeMarco can be reached at demarco@globe.com. He also updates a Facebook page, “WhotaughtYOUtodrive?’’