The problems of bringing touch interfaces to car is reaching dangerous level

Volvo says that the large screen leads the way, in reference to the 9-inch tablet that said SUV has as an infotainment system. Volvo is absolutely right in the world with that statement: the touch screens are cannibalizing in a short time what was once a Macedonian of buttons and dials , and there is almost no one left in the industry that resists the colorful and futuristic results.

Even a historical man like Porsche, who until recently kept filling his dashboard with physical buttons, has made the leap to a purely digital environment and screens everywhere with his electric, the Taycan. Volkswagen showed the ID Space Vizzion – the possible future Passat, whose interior heads this article next to a Golf of the nineties – and there we verify that it also does all-in to this type of interface . And the list goes on. However, despite everything, touch screens are starting to raise some eyebrows in the sector.

Touch screens breakthrough is not without controversy, and hopefully in the future this debate is fueled by security behind the wheel as a backdrop.

Screens, buttons, dials, voice

It was Mazda who rattled the cat when he announced in June that his cars would no longer have touch screens for security reasons . The Japanese considered that the need to look at them and touch them to control them could be a source of excessive distractions, which can literally end in deaths. Instead they started to bet on control methods based on buttons and dials that do not require holding the gaze for seconds, and also take advantage of the muscle memory that allows you to manipulate objects without necessarily looking at them. Remember that at 100 km / h, stop looking at the road for only four seconds means traveling more than 110 meters blindly.

Let’s see what this manufacturer proposes with the recent Mazda 3 :

The screen is further away from the driver compared to what we see in most cars, but besides not being touch …

It is oriented towards him, instead of centered, so that the angle helps to assume all the information in the shortest possible time.
It is higher than usual, so that the step between looking at the road and looking at the screen – and vice versa – is as smooth as possible.
Both are increasingly common trends in most manufacturers, not only Mazda, but they come to replace a first generation of screens often placed much lower and without a lateral inclination angle.

You can see what the difference in location means, right? Look almost to the ground in front of looking almost to the horizon.

The fact is that Mazda is also charging the touch screen capacity, both in the aforementioned model 3 and in the SUV CX-30 “due to a safety issue while driving, since the distance between the driver and the device makes difficult its tactile handling and would interfere in the driving “, as sources of the company explain. “For this reason, and based on our human-centered design, we have come to the conclusion that it does not offer any benefit to our clients in terms of security.”

Something similar BMW should have thought, without reaching that extreme: although almost all its models have touch screens, they have also always offered simultaneously the iDrive mechanism , a kind of central roulette to handle the screen remotely, where the gearshift or handbrake; and in some models, the voice interface or the gestural control, the latter for the moment only in the Series 7 but with a vocation to be the protagonist in all ranges.

Another manufacturer paid for solutions to transcend touchscreens is Mercedes, which lets you do virtually anything with your voice to reduce the need for the gaze to deviate from the road to set the temperature, turn off the air conditioning or change music , for example; as our partner César Muela found in the 2018 Class A analysis .

At the end of the day, the voice interface is not visual or tactile, so it seems a priori ideal to succeed the last two , since it does not require that we remove our hands or the look of the steering wheel and the road.

Renault also focuses on the voice lately, which includes such an assistant and also signed an agreement with Google to integrate the Google Assistant natively with Nissan and Mitsubishi. In any case, the French manufacturer does not plan to follow the steps of Mazda and load the touch screens of their cars, according to Carlos Izquierdo, Head of Product Information at the company.

Touch screens simplify design work for manufacturers, look modern and premium , and increase visual appeal to customers

Why is the use of the touch screen behind the wheel so critical?

The difference between a manual and a tactile control is crucial in road safety. A manual control can be automated by repetition, thanks to our position neurons and movement neurons, in addition to the sense of touch, as is obvious. This allows subconscious movements and psychologically simple, it’s like walking: we don’t think about which foot we move at each time, but a tactile control needs dedicated attention because it is a psychologically complex activity that is carried out consciously, and when we circulate, a psychologically complex activity as that can interfere with another psychologically complex activity such as the risk assessment that we carry out as we move.

The American Automobile Association made a study whose conclusions were very critical with these systems. Using sensors and cameras, they analyzed the level of distraction that involved dozens of actions at the wheel, resulting in the least distracting tasks such as listening to the radio and the most distracting all those related to these touch screens, especially when configuring the browser to set a destination.

The problem of the screens in cars does not end in whether they are tactile or if they are controlled with a dial: the connection with our mobile phones makes a much more risk factor come into play: notifications. Especially when the connection is made using Apple CarPlay or Google Android Auto. Both allow these notifications by default when receiving text or WhatsApp messages while driving the car.

The appearance of a push notification on the central screen of the car implies the instinctive deviation of the look, and therefore, the loss of attention, even if brief, of what happens on the road. Car manufacturers have not put impediments to compatibility with these systems, on the contrary. The list of manufacturers compatible with CarPlay and Android Auto covers virtually the entire industry.

Paradoxically, the connection of our phones and our cars was thought of as a way to increase security, since in that way certain situations were avoided, such as reading text messages or typing them on the keyboard, and theoretically limiting dangerous situations. with the dreaded use of mobile. It is now possible that new interfaces reach these interfaces in the same way that the permitted alcohol breath rate was reduced from 0.8 to 0.5 grams per liter in 1999. Progressive restrictions.