THE CAR OF THE NEAR-FUTURE WILL BE LOADED with all sorts of high-tech accessories including Internet access, navigation systems and rear seat TVs.

That's good...I think.

Some of that stuff already is here.

For instance, those "talk-to-me" navigation systems using global positioning satellites (a clever peaceful adaptation of Cold War technology) are finding themselves in more and more cars.

And automakers are trying to convince dealers that those new rear-seat entertainment systems carry a profit margin that can exceed the margin on some vehicles.

More - much more - is on the way. Soon motorists will send and receive e-mail, input and download data and surf the net. It will be like traveling the information superhighway while driving down the real highway.

That's intriguing, yet frightening.

I drove with someone on the sprawling and car-clogged 405 freeway in Los Angeles as he held his cell phone in his left hand, took notes with his right hand and steered with his knees. Whoa!

Put Internet access in his car and it could give a new meaning to crashing a computer.

At least the video entertainment systems are in the backseat, away from the driver's eyes, which should ideally be on the road.

Otherwise, for the people in the back, it's party time!

It's time to slip in a VCR movie. It's time to plug in Nintendo. Hey, who needs to look at the real world passing by when you can be playing Mortal Kombat?

Social critics may scorn rear-seat entertainment systems as pacifiers for children - and for some adults, for that matter - who could be ignoring majestic scenery outside while they are inside a vehicle watching a video. Say, the movie, Grand Canyon.

I tend to side with the critics, but, hey, I was raised by a mother who thought playing the radio while driving was a major distraction.

However, an executive at Visteon tells me that someday everyone will want rear-seat entertainment systems in their vehicles.

I told the executive I envisioned some such systems being sold because the buyer's kid threw a temper tantrum on the dealership floor until mommy and daddy said, O.K., O.K. we'll get the damn thing.

I asked the executive if he foresees sales under those circumstances. He thought for a second, then said, "Yeah, if you can get the kids to the dealerships."

I've no complaints with the GPS navigation systems. Well, actually I could probably come up with a gripe or two if I thought hard enough, but I don't want to come across as a whiner.

I had one occasion and one near-occasion to drive a car with a navigation system.

The time I did use one was while driving from Germany to Switzerland with Dave Smith, former editor of Ward's AutoWorld.

Dave and I both seem to be a bit directionally challenged. If we didn't have the navigation system guiding us down the byways and highways of central Europe, we probably would have ended up in Belgrade.

The time I almost used a navigation system was in Arizona during a ride-and-drive for the new Mercedes- Benz S-Class. We were about to depart with our route programmed into the system when word came back that a military jet had just crashed on a stretch of our intended route. By the way, it was the third such crash from the same air base in six months.

No one was killed in any of the crashes, but a lot of people were wondering why $20 million fighter jets kept belly flopping in the desert.

Anyway, the Mercedes-Benz people quickly changed the route, then told us, sorry, the route change precluded us from using the navigation system. So we were forced to use that quaint, ancient visual aid called a map.

The jet crash left one route planner shaking his head in disbelief.

"What are the chances of an airplane crashing on your planned driving route?" he said.

Apparently, pretty good

Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: steve_finlay@intertec.com