The distraction of in-car touch screens
When I’m in charge of a car company, we’re going to have one strict rule about interior design: Make it so it doesn’t cause you to crash the car.
You’d think this would already be in effect everywhere, but no. Ever since the arrival of the iPhone, car designers have aspired to replicate that sleek, glassy aesthetic within the cabin. And it never works, because you tend to look at a phone while you use it. In a car, you have this other thing you should be looking at, out there, beyond the high-resolution panoramic screen that separates your face from the splattering june bugs.
If a designer came to me with a bunch of screens, touch pads, or voice-activated haptic-palm-pad gesture controls, I’d trigger a trapdoor that caused the offender to plummet down into the driver’s seat of a Cadillac fitted with the first version of the CUE system—which incorporated a motion sensor that would actually change the screen as your finger approached it. And I’d trigger my trapdoor by turning a knob. I wouldn’t even have to look at it.
I drive different makes of trucks on an almost daily basis, and finding the way to get the result you want is amazingly complicated; there is often no obvious way to turn the traffic news feature off, for example, which means it will interrupt your listening about every five minutes to give you a traffic bulletin from each of the surrounding areas, particularly when you are near the border between areas (e.g. around Heathrow, which gets London, Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire local radio). But touch screens are a particular pain in the backside.
To answer a call on a lot of these things, you have to press firmly on a green panel on the screen. Often, this panel will be barely bigger than the average finger and right next to the red panel, which rejects the call. This means you have to take your eye off the road for long enough to make sure you’ve pressed it right. Even without actually handling your phone while driving (which is a specific offence), if you cause an accident while distracted, the law will come down hard on you. This system was in an MAN truck; MAN is owned by VW, so a similar system may be found in their cars and vans too. At least the phone pairs easily; in Mercedes in-car stereos, it’s a hit and (usually) miss process to get the system to ‘see’ your phone.
With my car, you answer or refuse a call by pressing a button on the steering wheel. That’s how it should be.
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