STUDY: Turns Out, Buttons Are Safer Than Touchscreens. Oops!
Which does Automologist MAC prefer?
You must have all seen them—a car that has a massive tablet computer slapped onto the middle of the dashboard. Just about every car manufacturer has or very soon will ditch the good old button-and-dial technology that we grew up with in favour of the new fandangled touchscreen infotainment systems. The in-car touchscreen is now so ubiquitous that my children were pretty baffled by the system in their grandmother’s 25-year-old Ford when they encountered it on a recent trip back to the UK.
I don’t know about you, but when driving, particularly on a bumpy road, I find it really hard to hit the precise point on the screen with any degree of accuracy or certainty. Frequently, I have wondered if struggling to operate the infotainment system whilst on the move was distracting to the point of making my driving unsafe.
Swedish car magazine Vi Bilagare was thinking of something very similar, so for the past few months, they have undertaken tests on twelve cars, eleven of them with touchscreens, and the last a “boxy-but-good” 2005 Volvo. The test was a pretty simple one whereby test drivers got to spend some time getting familiar with the vehicles. They then cruised down an empty airstrip at 110kph and were asked to perform four simple tasks, such as adjusting the aircon and retuning the radio.
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In all of the tests, the 2005 analogue Volvo outperformed the infotainment-equipped cars by quite a wide margin. The old school car did the tasks in 10 seconds in a tad over 300 metres. Whilst the best of the rest took 14 seconds. More worryingly, most of the rest took over 20 seconds with the cars having travelled over 600 metres. The more observant of you may well point out this is not the most scientifically based study and you would be right, but it did give me food for thought.
Infotainment systems have been getting more and more essential to the design of the interior of cars. More and more they control all the functions of the car as designers adopt a new minimalist design language for the interior of our ride. This is great if the touchscreen is easy to use but when they are not and they control things like window wipers, there may be an issue.
Oldies like me grew up with tactile knobs and buttons and switches that gave you a satisfying click when turned on/off so you could adjust them without taking your eyes off the road. A slippery touch screen simply does not give the same qualitative feedback and you often HAVE to take your eyes off the road to operate it.
Has the urge for smartphone-like tech created a future moving road traffic hazard? Probably.