How we operate many of the features in our vehicles have and are continuing to change. That’s mainly due to advancements in automotive technology, touchscreen displays being the primary one. They effectively replace the buttons, switches, levers, and knobs most of us have grown accustomed to reaching for while driving. In addition to increasing in popularity, these digital displays are also growing in size.
According to IHS Markit, an information services provider that completed a merger with S&P Global in 2022, touchscreen displays were standard in about 82% of vehicles sold in 2019 compared to roughly 53% in 2014. Today, these digital panels are in almost all cars, trucks, and SUVs on the road, notes another study published by Bloomberg. It revealed that an estimated 97% of new vehicles sold globally have at least one touchscreen. The study further found that these touchscreens, also known as “infotainment systems,” are taking up more and more dashboard space.
How Big Is Too Big?
Along with becoming what most would agree is omnipresent in modern-day vehicles, touchscreen displays seem to be growing in size. And that leaves many people wondering whether such an advancement in automotive technology contributes to distracted driving. For more than a decade, the average touchscreen comprised a 10-inch display. These days, you will be hard-pressed to find one that size. For example, most Tesla vehicles have a 15 or 17-inch touchscreen. The Ford F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E both have touchscreens measuring 15.5 inches. And the electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian managed to fit a 16-inch touchscreen in its R1T pickup. Of course, these are only a few examples. Fancy touchscreen displays may put everything at our fingertips, but it comes at a price.
Touchscreen Displays and Distracted Driving
Anything that takes our eyes off the road, even for a split second, can lead to a traffic accident; touchscreen displays are no exception. According to the media and publishing company Forbes, 8% to 9% of all fatal traffic accidents on American roads are a byproduct of distracted driving. In San Pablo, California 13 of the 119 recorded accidents were attributed to driver distraction. Many things fall under that umbrella, including texting or emailing someone via smartphone and conversing with occupants in one’s vehicle while driving. Unfortunately, the built-in touchscreens in today’s cars, trucks, and SUVs are furthering the problem. In a 2022 Swedish study, researchers found that touchscreens are more distracting for drivers than old-fashioned analog buttons. It found that reviewing the numerous menus typical of most displays and making a selection requires far more concentration and focus than merely turning a dial or pushing a lever one way or the other.
Automotive Publications Weigh in on the Dangers of Touchscreens
Available data shows the odds of being involved in a crash double if someone takes their eyes off the road for more than two seconds. Changing a radio station, adjusting temperature controls, and the like can take more than two seconds for some people, notes a study published by Autoweek, a weekly publication catering to car enthusiasts.
In the study, which involved individuals driving one of several touchscreen-equipped vehicles at 68 mph while changing the radio station, resetting the trip computer, or adjusting the cabin temperature in the vehicle, researchers made quite the discovery.
The goal was to determine how long each task would take to complete, and researchers found that the average time it took participants to complete a touchscreen-related assigned task was 23.5 seconds. That was across several popular car brands, including the Subaru Outback, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and BMW iX. Like others on the market, these vehicles have overly complex touchscreen systems that require multiple presses to achieve the desired outcome. The time spent flipping through menu after menu with these systems instead of focusing on the road is enough to cause or become the victim of a traffic accident.
In summary, touchscreen or infotainment systems are great. However, they can contribute to distracted driving since we have to take our eyes off the road for more than just a few seconds to get them to do things that would take a fraction of the time to accomplish using analog buttons, switches, levers, and dials.