Struggling with the touch screen

28 Jun 2024
While real switches and knobs were commonplace in the cockpit a few years back, the modern vehicle is being increasingly fitted with a touch screen. This can cause problems when switching to a vehicle type the driver is unaccustomed to. Apart from the navigation and sound system, some manufacturers have even introduced touch screen control of the air conditioning or windshield wipers.
DEKRA road psychologist Thomas Wagner warns readers that “problems can be caused especially when switching to an unaccustomed vehicle type or also when car sharing.” While innovative touch screen technologies fitted with intuitive navigation systems can principally reduce the risk of distraction, the opposite could, however, also be true.

The reason for this is that the touch screen lacks haptic feedback and can distract drivers even more than before because they need to spend more time glancing at the controls.

This problem is acerbated by the wide differences between the user navigation systems of various manufacturers. Tests conducted by DEKRA Accident Research demonstrated that the 80 participating drivers required much more time to operate safety-relevant functions like windshield wipers or dipped headlights on more recent vehicles, and in some cases, more than twice as long. The learning curve for operating responsive control surfaces was deemed as relatively high especially for the elderly driver. The modern control concept could even impair driving safety especially for those needing to wear reading glasses. Without them they cannot see the operating controls correctly but wearing them means they can hardly see anything at longer distances.
The vacationing driver is already distracted enough, what with new holiday destinations, in unaccustomed environments with different road and traffic situations, without struggling with the touch screen and thus increasing the risk of accident even more. Wagner recommends readers picking up their hire car to take a few minutes to familiarize themselves with the general layout and the touch screen operating concept as well as finding a suitable radio channel, programming the navigation system or hitching up the smartphone before setting off. If the driver discovers that additional changes are necessary along the way, then they should pull over and make them when the vehicle is parked. Drivers should normally only allow themselves a “brief” glance” at the operating screen.