Coming soon to a rental car near you:
- A panic button that brings police if you're in danger and roadside help if you break down;- A space-age navigation system that routes you back to your hotel if, say, you're visiting Manhattan but a wrong turn has left you clueless in the Bronx;
- A guide who leads you to the nearest gasoline station that honors your credit card or a restaurant that cooks your kind of food or a pharmacy or a cash machine.
Avis will try out the system on 60 of its cars at LaGuardia Airport beginning next week, said Chairman Joseph V. Vittoria.
Vittoria put heavy emphasis on the safety aspect in light of the wave of robberies and killings that has victimized tourists driving rental cars in unfamiliar surroundings, most notably in Florida.
NYNEX already has been testing the system on 140 cars around the New York metropolitan area for about a year, said Don Dashefsky, a spokesman for the phone company.
The tests will wind up in June. A few months later, the telephone company and a consortium of private and government agencies will decide whether to push into the general market.
The cars have hidden antennas that pick up signals from orbiting navigational satellites of the Global Positioning System and send them by car phone to computers at centers staffed around the clock.
If a driver pushes the panic button, the call goes to police. Other buttons connect with road service or an operator who provides travel information.