A new voice-recognition system could make it safer for European drivers to use in-car equipment such as navigation systems, restaurant finders and digital music players.

The system, co-developed by Pioneer Europe and IBM can be installed in 60 percent of cars sold in Europe today, according to Rene Werth, IBM embedded software specialist. Werth claims the system’s speech-recognition technology recognises 14 languages.

Such speech systems are typically pre-installed in high-end cars, so this product, called the AVIC-HD1BT, is unique in that customers who don't buy luxury cars can install the technology. It doesn't come cheap, however: Pioneer is recommending that dealers sell it for €2,500 (£1,600).

Owners can speak commands such as, "find me a hotel in Manchester", "call James", "play Lordi" to get information and driving directions, make phone calls and play music.

The device has a 30GB hard drive, with two-thirds of that used up by mapping data, provided by Tele Atlas. It also stores nearly 3.7 million points of interest, including gas stations, stores, restaurants and ATMs.

The remaining 10GB is reserved for music. Users can play a CD in the device or connect it to an iPod, ripping music from either to the hard drive. Once music is stored, customers can use voice commands to instruct the device to play songs.

The AVIC-HD1BT also includes Bluetooth so users can connect their phones to it and use voice commands to make hands-free calls while they’re driving.

Speech-recognition technology has improved over the past few years so that such products are more usable, Werth said. IBM has 300 researchers dedicated to speech recognition and they've been improving the algorithms for the speech engine used in the new product.