Sunday, April 21, 2024
NewsSafety Regulators Advocate for Reduced Touchscreen Reliance

Safety Regulators Advocate for Reduced Touchscreen Reliance


Digital interfaces have become the norm in today’s vehicles. The independent crash test organization, Euro NCAP, which includes members such as the UK’s Thatcham Research and Horiba MIRA, has issued a warning to automobile manufacturers: reduce the dependence on touchscreen controls or face the consequences in safety evaluations.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE 500 4MATIC SUV | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

With the implementation of new testing guidelines slated for January 2026, Euro NCAP intends to introduce penalties for vehicles that overly rely on touchscreens for essential functions. These include operations such as indicating turns, engaging hazard lights, honking the horn, activating windscreen wipers, and employing the eCall SOS feature—a mandatory system that uses the vehicle’s internet connection to alert emergency services in the event of an accident.

 

The transition towards touchscreens in recent years has been driven by several factors. Automakers favor these interfaces for their ability to facilitate regular system updates through over-the-air software downloads, and for the potential revenue streams they unlock through the post-purchase activation of built-in options like heated seats or advanced lighting systems. Moreover, touchscreens offer a cost-effective alternative to physical buttons, eliminating the need for extensive durability testing.

2024 BMW X2 | Photo: Benoit Charette

However, Euro NCAP’s impending regulations highlight a growing concern within the automotive industry and among safety advocates: the potential for increased driver distraction. The reliance on touchscreens, which often require the driver’s visual engagement, poses a risk to road safety, undermining efforts to discourage smartphone use while driving.

 

Matthew Avery, Director of Strategic Development at Euro NCAP, emphasized the universal challenge posed by touchscreen overuse, noting its contribution to the heightened risk of distraction-related incidents. As reported by The Sunday Times Driving, the upcoming Euro NCAP tests aim to promote the use of intuitive physical controls for basic vehicle operations, thereby minimizing the time drivers spend with their eyes off the road.

2024 Volkswagen ID.4 | Photo: Volkswagen

Tesla, known for its screen-centric vehicle interfaces, may find its safety ratings particularly impacted by these changes. The latest Tesla Model 3 model, for instance, has eliminated traditional steering column stalks in favor of steering wheel buttons and a central touchscreen for multiple vehicle functions. Other automakers, such as Volkswagen and Volvo, have similarly integrated essential controls into touchscreen menus, raising concerns about driver distraction.

 

Supporting Euro NCAP’s stance, a study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) highlighted the dangers associated with in-car screens. The research revealed that tasks such as entering navigation destinations could divert a driver’s attention for dangerously long periods, spanning up to 40 seconds, during which the vehicle could cover significant distances without the driver’s full control.

2024 Tesla Model 3 | Photo: Tesla

Interestingly, the study also found that traditional dashboard controls, including both touchscreens and physical buttons, tended to be less distracting than voice commands or console-mounted controls. Despite this, the AAA cautioned against the assumption that in-built vehicle technologies are inherently safe for use while driving.

 

As Euro NCAP’s new testing protocols approach, the debate over touchscreen controls in vehicles will intensify, with implications for car design, consumer preferences, and, most critically, road safety.

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Matt St-Pierre
Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai

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