New Study Proves Touchscreens Are Distracting And Unsafe

Technology / 20 Comments

When it comes to safety, old cars are ahead of new ones in a key area.

Advancements in automotive technology have brought numerous benefits to the lives of average motorists. Technology such as blind-spot assist and automatic emergency braking make modern vehicles safer than ever, reduce accidents and, importantly, reduce the risk of serious injury or death. But some leading safety experts argue these systems aren't as effective as they should be.

Another feature of the modern car that often comes under scrutiny is the touchscreen. Despite the buying public's desire for physical buttons, automakers continue to favor the clean, cost-effective setup that has become commonplace across the industry.

While they look impressive and allow for a minimalist look, they may not be very safe. Sweden's Vi Bilagare gathered several new vehicles - and one old Volvo - to see how far we've come in terms of ergonomics and reducing distracted driving. The results may surprise you.

Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare

In the interests of impartiality, the motoring publication allowed the drivers to get used to the cars and their respective infotainment systems. The test was straightforward enough. While moving along at a steady 68 mph, the driver performed simple functions, such as changing the radio station, lowering the instrumental lighting (and turning off the main display), and resetting the trip computer.

Some vehicles, such as the Volvo C40 and Dacia Sandero, performed better than others. It took drivers 13.7 and 13.5 seconds, respectively, to carry out the aforementioned tasks. Out of a maximum score of five, the Volvo scored 3.5 while the Dacia scored 3.75. The Volkswagen Group didn't fare well; the ID.3 scored just 2.25 points and required 25.7 seconds to complete the allotted tasks. The Seat Leon (3.25) needed 29.3 seconds.

Both scored poorly due to their touch-sensitive climate controls. At night, the controls are invisible as they're not backlit. Volkswagen is aware of this, with Hein Schafer telling CarBuzz that plenty of changes are coming.

Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare

Despite the driver needing 30.4 seconds to carry out these simple tasks, the BMW iX scored well with four points as the German does have some physical buttons despite an overly complicated infotainment screen.

The Subaru Outback (4.0) and Nissan Qashqai (4.25) - called the Rogue here in the US - scored best. The driver needed 19.4 seconds to adjust everything in the Outback and 25.1 seconds in the Nissan.

On the other end of the spectrum, the worst offender was the MG Marvel R. While its score was higher than the VW ID.3's at 2.5 points, the test driver needed 44.9 seconds to perform all the tasks. This is alarming, as so many things can happen in that time - especially when you're traveling at highway speeds. Worse still, the touchscreen position was criticized heavily.

Conversely, the Mercedes-Benz GLB found favor thanks to its cleverly positioned screen; drivers only need to tilt their heads 20 degrees.

Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare

The most interesting thing this experiment shows us is that modern cars are worse than older ones. An old Volvo V70 station wagon was used as a benchmark without any digital interfaces. The aging Swede performed best of the lot; drivers needed just 10 seconds to perform all four tasks, netting the practical Volvo the highest score of 4.5.

In a similar study in Germany, the Mazda3 came out tops. The country's Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club (ADAC) found the compact hatchback to have the safest infotainment system in its class by favoring physical controls over touchscreens.

Hopefully, this annoying trend will die out soon and we'll see a welcome return to physical controls. The head of design for DS Automobiles expressed his disdain for touchscreens. Not one to mince words, Thierry Metroz described them as "a little bit stupid." Frankly, we agree.

Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare Glenn Lindberg/Vi Bilägare
Source Credits: Vi Bilagare

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