I TAKE ERASMUS-LIKE SATISFACTION in reading David Zipper’s “The Glorious Return of a Humble Car Feature” in Slate, April 26, 2023. Indeed, it was way back on August 31, 2012, barely a month into SimanaitisSays, that I complemented the Honda Crosstour’s “blessedly traditional… array of logical buttons that are easy to use in a moving car. I’ve got to wonder if touch screen designers ever try their gizmos on less than mirror-smooth roads.”
Safety As Well. “Happily,” David Zipper writes in Slate, “there is one area where we are making at least marginal progress: A growing number of automakers are backpedaling away from the huge, complex touch screens that have infested dashboard design over the past 15 years. Buttons and knobs are coming back.”
What’s more, David notes, “The touch screen pullback is the result of consumer backlash, not the enactment of overdue regulations or an awakening of corporate responsibility. Many drivers want buttons, not screens, and they’ve given carmakers an earful about it. Auto executives have long brushed aside safety concerns about their complex displays—and all signs suggest they would have happily kept doing so. But their customers are revolting, which has forced them to pay attention.”
The Problem. Touch screens have evolved into high-tech embodiments of “laptops on wheels” with an important difference: We ordinarily do our computer fooling when stationary, not when occupied with controlling a moving vehicle in a complex environment.
David notes, “As I explained in a 2021 Slate article, the trend toward car touch screens has been a dangerous one for road safety. Those who drove in the 1990s will remember using buttons and knobs to change the radio or adjust the air conditioning without looking down from the steering wheel.”
“Despite their name,” David observes, “touch screens rely on a driver’s eyes as much as her fingers to navigate—and every second that she is looking at a screen is a second that she isn’t looking at the road ahead. Navigating through various levels of menus to reach a desired control can be particularly dangerous; one study by the AAA Foundation concluded that infotainment touch screens can distract a driver for up to 40 seconds, long enough to cover half a mile at 50 mph.”
However, David says, “Seeking to address these risks, NHTSA published voluntary guidance in 2013 recommending that a driver be able to complete any infotainment task with glances of under two seconds, totaling a maximum of 12 seconds. But NHTSA’s guidance had no enforcement mechanism, and carmakers have violated it with impunity.”
One reason for these violations is cost-cutting: It’s noted that “carmakers can purchase screens for less than $50, making them significantly less expensive than tactile controls.”
Supporting Views. David cites, “A recent J.D. Power consumer survey on vehicle dependability concluded that “infotainment remains a significant issue for new vehicles.”
Also, “In a 2022 New York Times opinion piece titled ‘Touch Screens in Cars Solve a Problem We Didn’t Have,’ Jay Caspian Kang wrote, ‘I can think of no better way of describing the frustration of the modern consumer than buying a car with a feature that makes you less safe, doesn’t improve your driving experience in any meaningful way, saves the manufacturer money and gets sold to you as some necessary advance in connectivity.’ ”
And, “Other stories railing against car touch screens ran in newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and tech sites like Tom’s Guide, which declared, “I’m sorry, but touchscreens in cars are stupid.”
I also agree. I have forwarded this column to four friends with similar sentiments. Yet another reason to wait a bit for the next vehicle purchase. The main reason – supply catching up to (and exceeding) demand, and the inevitable pricing adjustments.
Of course this all assumes you will be still able to drive your vehicle instead of being driven by it.
Brings to mind my old Rover 2000 (inherited from my father when he retired to the UK in the mid 70s). Each switch on the dash had a different shape so that you could operate it strictly by feel.
And the heating controls could be set up to blow warm air on your feet and cooler air to your face.
And no infotainment. Dad didn’t believe in car radios, and it was optional so he didn’t get one.
One of the main reasons I would never buy a Tesla (Musk’s labor practices being the biggest one). I went into a showroom one time when I passed on by chance and sat in the (then) about to be released Model 3.
There were (still are) two embedded balls in the steering wheel, and two stalks. Everything else is on a giant screen in the middle. I looks super clean and elegant. That is great if you like a Scandinavian style living room (I do). That is not great if you want to not drive into a ditch trying to adjust the automatic wiper speed on a rainy country road late at night.
Not a fan.
Good news that the auto industry is pulling back from kowtowing to vidiots. It’s dicey enough out there. Get off the phone, stop texting, leave the video games at home and learn to d r i v e.
It is too easy to get a driver’s license in the US. It should be viewed as privilege, not right. A fellow who’d been a driving instructor in France and Italy in the late 1950s, early ’60s shared a question with us from the Italian driver’s license test:
“You’re driving down a narrow two-lane street and notice a woman about to jump from a third-floor balcony. What do you do next?”
There was only one correct answer to this very real question.
Take your time. Then scroll down:
“What are you doing with your eyes off the road?”
To which most Americans might whine, “That’s not fair.” Or, “That’s a trick question.”
Exactly. Life’s not fair and loaded with tricks.