Crash Testing May Require Auto Makers to Ditch Large Touchscreens

2026 mandate for switches or buttons to control essential tasks: a sensible move.

The Euro NCAP, also known as the European New Car Assessment Programme, has announced that it will assign lower safety ratings to newly released vehicles that lack buttons, stalks or dials for essential functions such as turn signals, hazard lights, windshield wipers, horn and emergency SOS calls. In essence, vital features related to safety in a motor vehicle must be controlled by physical switches in order to meet the safety standards.

“The excessive utilization of touchscreens is a widespread issue within the industry,” stated Matthew Avery, director of strategic development at Euro NCAP. “Nearly all vehicle manufacturers are transitioning important controls onto central touchscreens, forcing drivers to divert their attention from the road and increasing the likelihood of distraction-related accidents. In response, the upcoming Euro NCAP tests in 2026 will incentivize manufacturers to incorporate separate, tangible controls for essential functions in a user-friendly way. This will minimize the amount of time drivers spend with their eyes off the road, ultimately promoting safer driving practices.”

The Mercedes Hyperscreen has received criticism for its oversized display, and the issue may only amplify in the future. However, despite its distracting dimensions, one component that is not included in this interface is the hazard lights button. This stands separately on the center console, while directional signals are operated through stalks. As for the SOS button, it can be found on the roof. In essence, this indicates that the Mercedes EQS adheres to the updated regulations in its basic design, even with its massive screen.

The revamped Tesla Model 3, on the other hand, does away with traditional column stalks for activating turn signals. Instead, touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel take on this role. The debate over whether these haptic buttons can be considered as physical controls is a point of potential disagreement.

Despite the need for physical controls, it would be impractical to continue installing large touchscreens. However, it is important to note that any future changes may not necessarily benefit Americans.Physical controls are essential in certain situations, but incorporating oversized touchscreens may not always be a sensible choice. It should be recognized that adjustments made in the future cannot guarantee positive outcomes for people in the United States.

Numerous research studies have provided evidence that touchscreens can be a significant source of distraction and pose safety risks. In 2022, a study conducted in Germany concluded that the Mazda3, which uses mostly button controls for its interface, has the most secure infotainment system design. This confirms that having excessive screen space can potentially jeopardize safety. However, US regulators have not yet taken steps to implement similar modifications.

It is hoped that the issue will resolve itself organically. According to a French automotive design leader, touchscreens are foolish, while former Apple designer Jony Ive predicted in 2022 that there would be a shift towards “interfaces and products that are more hands-on and physically stimulating,” ultimately branding the touch-only interface as a passing trend.

It is possible for logical reasoning to ultimately succeed.

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