Migrating once physical controls into a big touchscreen is very on-trend at the moment. From affordable things like Peugeots to premium stuff from Audi and others, it feels like everyone’s at it.
Tesla goes a step further with its Model 3 - the central display even replaces the instrument cluster. Meanwhile, although the windscreen wipers can be controlled to an extent via a column-mounted stalk, you need to use the touchscreen to change their speed or enable the auto mode. This seemingly proved rather distracting for one driver - according to a court in Germany, fiddling with wiper settings caused him to leave Bundesautobahn 36 and crash his Model 3 into several trees March last year.
The man was ordered to pay a €200 fine and serve a one-month driving ban in August 2019. The court ruled that the accident was due to “improper use of an electronic device in accordance with Section 23 (1)of the Road Traffic Regulations” (translated).
The man argued against the ruling, claiming that the central screen is a “safety-related control panel”. Despite this, the Oberlandesgericht (higher regional court) in Karlsruhe has since issued a final judgement, siding with the original ruling.
The court said that that operation of a touchscreen is “permitted if the view is only briefly adjusted to the screen based on road, traffic, visibility and weather conditions,” but decided the Model 3’s five-setting wiper sub-menu “requires significantly more attention from the driver than when operating the wiper with the conventional fittings”.
The ruling could slow down or even reverse the car industry’s cabin ‘decluttering’ trend, although some manufacturers are already going down another path. Mazda, for instance, has ditched touchscreens in favour of displays operated with physical controls in the name of reducing distractions. It’s also worth noting that there’s a huge push behind voice activation tech from multiple major manufacturers, mitigating the need to use touchscreens, although these systems still have plenty of limitations.