Your Car is Not a Cafe Or Is It

It's a familiar occurrence: you're driving to work in the morning, listening to your iPod, and periodically taking your coffee cup from the cup holder and taking a swig, when the sip ends in a grimace. Why? Because the coffee's gone cold. It's happened to everyone at one point or another, and if not cold coffee, than the reverse has happened, your once-refreshingly cool water bottle has become tepid and unappealing after just a few miles of sunny street. The good news is that car manufacturers also have this problem in their own cars, and some are taking advantage of it to spark new designs in cup holders and glove boxes that don't quite turn your vehicle into a vending machine, but do give you the ability to keep hot drinks hot, and cold drinks cold, at least while the car is actually running.

The 2007 Chrysler Sebring was the first to offer heated and cooled cup holders. They're in the center console, and have a switch to change the setting from "heat" to "cool." (They also sport glowing lights that match the rest of the console dials, but that has no effect on your coffee.

) Heating tops out at 140 degrees F, while cooling drops your beverage temperature to a chilly 35. These well-style cup holders also do a great job of making sure your beverage doesn't tip over or slosh out, and if you're not the coffee drinking type, you can also use the cup holder to warm a container of Campbell's Soup at Hand. Slightly less versatile is the Chill Zone now appearing on all 2008 Dodge Avengers and some Calibers, as well as a few Jeeps. It is a section at the lower front of the glove compartment that has been re-engineered to hold up to four 12-ounce beverage cans, and keep them cold. Dodge actually did a survey as part of their planning for this feature, in which they determined that 26% of Americans don't use their glove box at all, let alone to store gloves, so it seems like a logical place to put an in-car cooler.

One has to wonder, however, if turning your car into a food warmer or drink cooler comes with a price. Should we be encouraging the habit of eating behind the wheel, or should we be looking at laws enforcing DWE - driving while eating? Insurance companies are only beginning to track food- and beverage-related accidents, but already they'll tell you that sipping coffee and operating a steering wheel at the same time double your chances of being in an accident, and some companies have created lists of dangerous foods, which includes items likely to spill and burn, as well as those that are simply messy, and distract you from the road in order to preserve the cleanliness of your clothing and upholstery. It's not surprising the coffee is the number-one item on such lists, but it may be interesting to note that filled doughnuts are also considered a driving hazard, both because they are sticky and because they have a tendency to glop jelly or cream when you bite into them. The danger in eating in the car is as real as that of using your cell phone behind the wheel, and there is no dearth of hands-free technology for phones, so maybe we should consider Chrysler's cup holders and Dodge's coolers as ersatz safety features. After all, if your drink or snack can maintain its temperature until you reach your destination, there's no reason to snack while you steer.

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