MOTORING / Are you sitting comfortably?: You won't be for long in the cars of the future if you're over the limit. Jeremy Hart on interiors that can soak up smells, cut out noise, cool seats - and eject drunks

INTERIORS rarely sell cars. Who'd be seen in an ugly duckling of a motor even if it did look like Buckingham Palace inside? Yet in the past few years, designers have begun to focus not only on the image of the interiors but also their function - and, most significantly, their effect on our health.

Simplicity will be the most obvious quality of the cars of the future, particularly where the controls are concerned. This is not because drivers are becoming lazier; nor does it herald the beginning of a robotic age. The reason is to do with demographics. 'By the year 2000, in Europe especially, the majority of drivers will be over 55,' says Ken Greenley, course leader in vehicle design at the Royal College of Art in London, where some of the best potential car designers in the world train. 'Cars of the future will have to be aimed far more at people who are not in the full flush of youth,' he adds. 'The whole look of cars will have to adapt. Buttons and information from the dashboard will have to be larger and easier to see.'

The car interior as we know it - the all-too-

familiar unimaginative mixture of plastics and vinyls, checks and stripes - is not about to disappear. But in 10 or 20 years you will be driving in a comfortable cocoon in which advanced technology will steer the car, cool your seat, counteract road noise, even monitor your alertness and health.

Of the large manufacturers who are already creating the 21st-century car, Mitsubishi has been one of the most radical. Its HSR-III concept car has no pedals. Instead, the brake and the accelerator are in the form of motorbike-style twist grips on the steering wheel - part of a fly-by-wire technology known as the Autonomous Driving System. 'This means the driver is not required to exert as much physical force as in conventional foot operation of these controls,' says Mitsubishi.

The HSR-III could also save lives electronically. A Driver Monitoring System measures the driver's heart rate through sensors in the steering wheel. It can also sense irregularities in steering and the blinking of the driver's eyes - an indication of a loss of alertness, or even drunkenness. If the driver does not react to the warnings flashed from the display panel, the monitoring system will cut in, take control of the car and pull it over to the side of the road with the aid of in-built cameras.

One idea proposed for Honda's concept car is even less forgiving to drunks. A driver who tried to clamber behind the wheel after a few too many would be breathalysed by an automatic device that sniffed the alcohol on his or her breath. A positive result would set off a James Bond-style ejection system, propelling the offender head-first out of the car.

After alcohol, one of the main causes of accidents is noise - because it induces fatigue. Even in the most luxurious cars, driving above a certain speed creates a booming sensation - a combination of tyre and engine noise. The antidote, already designed separately by Lotus and VW, is electronic noise control. Using microphones mounted in the car, the technology senses the booming and plays a combative sound through the loudspeakers. The two sounds cancel each other out and make the car's interior almost silent.

Toyota is more concerned with smells than noise. The company's Japanese engineers have invented a car-seat material that gets rid of them. Made of a natural ceramic and crystals, it soaks up anything from the smell of cigarettes to pet odours.

Vauxhall has tackled in-car hygiene another way. Its design team in Germany has created a seat which is air-conditioned - and another that breathes. 'A stable temperature has a remarkable effect on overall comfort levels,' says Gerhard Stonus, head of interior development at General Motors. Vauxhall's air-conditioned seat is only likely to appear on luxury models, but the breathing seat - made of cloth able to keep a driver's back and bottom cool - should be widely available.

Seats are often criticised by orthopaedic surgeons, who claim lumbar support is often insufficient, leading to fatigue and, in extreme conditions, back trouble. Professionals who spend long hours at the wheel are most at risk.

'Pressure on the discs is at its greatest when you are sitting,' warns Dr Bernard Watkin, an orthopaedic specialist who has studied seating design. 'Combined with the up-and-down movement of the car, this puts the back in a far from optimum position. The longer you spend at the wheel, the worse the pressure on the back becomes - so a nice soft seat might not be so desirable after 100 miles.'

Even though most car companies have introduced lumbar support and better quality foams to their seat construction, Dr Watkin thinks more could be done. 'They just need to make seats the right shape. I've never been of the opinion that they need to spend a lot of money to achieve that.' Dr Watkin worked with the mechanical-digger manufacturer JCB to make a seat supportive for a driver spending day after day at the wheel.

In the punishing sport of rallying, Finnish driver Ari Vatanen drives his 150mph Subaru Legacy from a specially designed orthopaedic seat designed to protect his damaged back. Vatanen almost died in a high-speed accident in 1985. One of the dozens of injuries he sustained was a compression fracture to two of his vertebrae, causing them to fuse. In January this year he had another accident, causing two vertebrae lower down to fuse as well.

Determined to help him continue driving for the Banbury-based Prodrive team, Vatanen's team doctor, David Williams, commissioned a special seat costing pounds 2,000. 'It is made from orthopaedic foam which cushions his back,' Dr Williams explains. 'It has a high hysteresis, which means that the faster it is compressed, the harder the foam gets. Anyone who gets stiff on a long journey can only begin to imagine how Ari must feel. This sort of seat would be great in a road car.'

Rally drivers are not the only group for whom badly-designed seats are an occupational hazard. During the Second World War, Allied troops were invalided out with Jeep Driver's Bottom - otherwise known as a pilonidal sinus, a painful abscess that forms in the cleft between the upper buttocks with the inflammation of a distended hair follicle. There were 77,000 cases of the condition in the US Army alone, most caused by the bouncing motion of the Jeep and the insanitary conditions of war. Driving, especially off-road, is still one of the most common causes of the 7,000 annual cases in Britain today.

'It can be aggravated by the friction of the buttocks which, in a motion like rolling a cigarette, cause the hairs to be drifted into the skin,' explains Timothy Allen-Mersh, a surgeon at Westminster Hospital and an acknowledged expert on the subject.

Land-Rover, as might be expected, tries to limit the amount of bouncing its drivers have to endure. 'We try and hold people into the seat,' says John Tomkinson, in the company's trim department, 'mainly by giving them some retention through the shape of the seat.'

Hard on the tail of the boom in safety features in new cars, manufacturers are at last seeing the value of making driving better for you. Next time you get stuck behind a slow- moving over-55-year-old, do not hoot. Instead, think of the creature comforts he or she may be bringing drivers of the future.-

Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

books
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Bell in the new BBC series Posh People: Inside Tatler

Review: Posh journalists just can't get enough of each other

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital