Why are car manufacturers starting to ignore safety?

I used to love the idea of one day owning a Tesla. But that’s changed. I’m looking at getting a VW Golf next year, but I may not be getting the new Mark 8 model.

Exactly why is due to both manufacturers (and they’re not alone) ignoring safety. Not just ignoring it but actively changing something about the car that was safe to now be otherwise.

What am I talking about? The dashboard. More specifically, removing physical buttons and switches and replacing them with a touch screen.

Why is this a problem?

Let’s say, right now you want to increase the temperature in the car, whilst you’re travelling. You know where the button is and which way to turn it – you can do that without looking. Indeed, in my car each positive click from the wheel to the right is an increase of 0.5℃. So I can change the temperature whilst keeping my eyes on the road.

Now, assume it’s done on a touch-screen. And, let’s be optimistic and assume it’s on the main screen. It will either be a slider that you drag or it will have up and down buttons. Either way, there will be no feedback and no real way of locating it without looking – you HAVE to take your eyes away from driving to use a touchscreen.

The Tesla Model 3 takes it to the most extreme with just a couple of programmable buttons on the wheel – everything else is located on the central screen.

To make things worse, Tesla allow streaming services, such as Netflix, to be used on this screen.

The Mark 8 Golf isn’t as bad as the Tesla, retaining some buttons and switches but, by their own admission, they’ve used the screen to cut down on the number.

Only time (or a test drive) will tell if they’ve done this practically or not.

What I don’t understand is that for decades it’s the manufacturers that have been pushing the envelope on car safety – both for those in the car but also for pedestrians. But, here, it’s being ignored and taking your eyes off the road is a danger in both scenarios.

Tesla is probably the company that started it but more and more are following.

What’s the solution?

I own a 2017 model Mazda 3. It has a touch screen in the centre but all of the regularly used controls are still physical buttons and switches. All this does is run the SatNav, entertainment (although there’s a physical volume/mute button and controls on the steering wheel too) and allow you to change some settings about the car (the type you’re only going to do ad-hoc, if ever, and then not when you’re driving).

In fact, Mazda made it so that when the car is moving, the touch-screen turns off and you need to use a joystick in the centre console to operate it instead, recognising that use of a touch screen whilst driving was not a good idea. In fact they found even more issues with drivers using touch screens…

Doing our research, when a driver would reach towards a touchscreen interface in any vehicle, they would unintentionally apply torque to the steering wheel, and the vehicle would drift out of its lane position

The latest version of the Mazda 3 has even more of the dashboard electronic but the buttons have still not been reduced and, more importantly, they’ve ditched touch controls entirely now.

Screens in cars can be good but touch-screens are not.

We’re probably all aware of the Euro NCAP safety ratings for cars. They divide safety into 4 categories – for an adult occupant, a child occupant, for a pedestrian and for safety assistance (driving safety aids). This latter one is about automatic braking, etc.

None of these take into account driver distractions – which probably explains why the button-less Tesla Mark 3 gets a five star rating.

The solution here seems obvious and it’s to include such distractions – how easy is it to drive without takings your eyes off the road. If this drags down a score, we’ll see manufacturers taking action. And there’s a lot more that can be done other than just retaining physical switches.

For example, and any manufacturer can have this one for free, if the car has a CD player, disable the eject function if there is no passenger and the car is in motion – that prevents the driver from swapping CDs whilst on the move. Little things like this can be done and should be done but it needs positive action from somewhere like Euro NCAP for it to happen. Simply removing the ability of the driver to be distracted, whilst driving, would be a huge boon in safety.

Until then, I’m not going to buy any vehicle that I know will be unsafe in this way. I’m hoping that a test drive in the new Golf will put my mind at ease with regard to their changes – if not, I’ll stick to the previous model.

Talk to me!

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