Why touch controls can be dangerous in the car

PARIS: Euro NCAP, renowned for its expertise in automotive safety, has announced that from 2026 its ratings will penalise models offering touch-sensitive controls for such essential functions as turn signals, windshield wipers and hazard warning lights.

The idea is for automakers to favour physical buttons over touch controls, which are deemed more distracting and therefore more dangerous.

Excessive use of haptic buttons on the steering wheel and touchscreens in car cabins can pose safety problems.

Today, many automakers have moved key controls to the infotainment screen in the centre of the dashboard, forcing drivers to take their eyes off the road and thus increasing the risk of distraction-related accidents.

As for touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel, they are often not ergonomic, and can prove dangerous to use if they cause the driver to lose concentration.

Although it has no real power, Euro NCAP hopes to encourage manufacturers to retain separate physical controls for all basic functions. While Tesla is of course clearly targeted, most manufacturers are, in fact, concerned.

Touch controls can potentially be dangerous, but they can also be slower. In 2022, an experiment conducted by Swedish journalists found that cars currently equipped with touchscreens are slower to perform a whole range of tasks than older models equipped only with manual buttons and switches.

In recent years, the human-machine interface in the car has evolved dramatically, but not necessarily for the better.

A great deal of critical feedback, both in dealerships and on specialist online forums, is prompting some executives to refrain from ditching classic push-buttons altogether, such as Volkswagen CEO, Thomas Schäfer, for example.

This "step backwards" and the Euro NCAP announcements highlight the fact that progress is not always synonymous with improved performance.
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