Vehicle Touchscreens: In Touch with Drivers or Out of Hand?Understanding the of advantages and disadvantages of vehicle touchscreens

By Main Street Sentinel Staff

Get behind the wheel of any new vehicle, and it’s impossible to miss the impact smartphones have had on the modern driving experience. The knobs, dials, and dedicated buttons that once defined a vehicle’s center console have given way, in many cases, to touchscreens and banks of capacitive touch buttons.

The appeal of these designs is easy to understand: these new elements lend new vehicles a simplicity and sleekness that traditional designs can’t match. But their downsides may be hard to understand, especially for prospective car buyers unfamiliar with new technology.

For many drivers, the immediate appeal of the touchscreens appearing in many new vehicles is their larger size.The larger the screen, after all, the easier it is to see – and to use. By removing buttons from the console, car manufacturers are also able to give drivers a better look at all of their vehicle’s essential functions in a single location, accessible via menus that are easy to navigate by hand.

In recent years, many auto manufacturers have taken a more is more approach to in-vehicle screens. For instance, the 2022 Lexus NX can be equipped with an optional 14-inch touchscreen – that’s the double size of the screen found in the original 2015 NX. The Ford Mustang Mach-E comes standard with a 15.5-inch center touchscreen – the largest of any current vehicle in production.

Some manufacturers are even offering features that go beyond our usual expectations of what a touchscreen can offer. Mercedes-Benz’ all-electric EQS comes equipped with what they call a “Hyperscreen”, a touchscreen that encompasses the entire dashboard.
Whether your touchscreen dominates the dashboard or it is the dashboard, bigger screens offer clear benefits. They’re easier to read, whether you’re looking at a map or changing the radio station, and much simpler to accurately navigate by hand.

Ease of use and accessibility are more important than ever for vehicle touchscreens. These days, a single screen is expected to do it all, putting everything from A/C to audio at a driver’s fingertips, all while interfacing with the driver’s smartphone via apps like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

This multi-functionality allows automakers to give drivers much more control, while achieving a sleek elegant design. Take the Tesla Model S. Drivers can access nearly every function – from the windshield wipers to the shifter – via the vehicle’s touchscreen. Meanwhile, the Kia EV6 has a bank of touch controls that are used for climate controls and, at the press of a specific button, as stereo controls. Drivers just have to make sure they’ve engaged the right mode – or they might find themselves turning up the heat instead of raising the volume.

Furthermore, because the buttons on a touchscreen aren’t fixed in place, manufacturers can give drivers an unprecedented amount of control over the way they operate their vehicle. Get behind the wheel of a Tesla Model 3 and you can rearrange the location of all the major on-screen buttons however you’d like.The 2022 Lucid Air, meanwhile, allows different drivers to create customized profiles that contain presets for the steering wheel, seats, and stereo that can be stored and switched instantly.

The do-it-all functionality of modern touchscreens does have some significant downsides, however. Having all your controls in one place or device is great – until that device stops functioning. Anyone who has had their computer freeze or had their phone battery die at an inopportune moment knows how. Unfortunately, a malfunctioning touchscreen can have the same effect on your ability to comfortably and effectively operate your vehicle.

However, the biggest potential drawback of touchscreens is a factor even when they’re working perfectly. With touchscreens, drivers have to take their eyes off the road to perform most functions. According to a 2020 study by IAM RoadSmart, an independent UK road safety nonprofit, even a simple task like pulling up a song on Spotify caused drivers to take their eyes off the road for an average of 20 seconds. That’s despite the fact National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines recommend “devices be designed so that tasks can be completed by the driver while driving with glances away from the roadway of 2 seconds or less.” The study also concluded that the impact on reaction time when using touch control was even worse than texting while driving.

In contrast, a driver using a vehicle with a traditional center console will eventually be able to operate their vehicle’s buttons entirely by touch, with no need to take their eyes off the road.

Everyone has different priorities when it comes to their vehicle’s features, so make sure to get a feel for a car’s tech before you make the decision to buy. And if you’re not a fan of touchscreens, consider brands like BMW, Genesis, Mercedes-Benz or Mazda, that continue to offer control knob interfaces.