Last June, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland, put the auto industry on notice by saying, “A car is not a mobile device.” His words were simple, but their meaning complex; the NHTSA would only support in-car apps that improved safety, not those that merely enhanced connectivity.

With that guiding principle in mind, the wireless industry is looking at a potential explosion in automobile connectivity in the coming years. Glenn Lurie, president of AT&T’s Emerging Devices business, told The New York Times, “Five percent of cars are connected today. Three to five years from now, 100 percent will be connected.”

Does that mean that roads will be choked by texting-addled drivers, weaving from lane to lane? Hardly; instead, connectivity will provide real-time vehicle diagnostics, real-time accident reporting, minute-to-minute traffic updates and streaming entertainment for rear-seat passengers, now of which would draw ire from Strickland.

Some systems, like the Cue infotainment system recently shown by Cadillac, will provide text to voice messaging, so that your incoming text messages can be read aloud to you. Other systems, like Hyundai’s Blue Link, will allow subscribers to initiate voice-to-text messages, allowing users to reply instead of just listening to inbound texts.

Early systems, such as GM’s OnStar, have established a benchmark for pricing on basic services. As features get more advanced, costs will likely rise, raising another issue: how much is too much for subscribers?

No one knows the right answer to that particular question, and several pricing models have been discussed. As with satellite radio, the common wisdom appears to be a free trial period, followed by monthly or discounted yearly subscriptions.

This much is clear: cars of the future may not fly and they may not drive themselves, but  they will provide a level of connectivity that drivers couldn’t even imagine just a few years back.