Why your car could travel more than a kilometre while you fiddle with the touchscreen

A Swedish motoring magazine pitted 11 modern cars against a 17-year-old Volvo V70 to see what happens when drivers need to perform a task

While the car-making industry careers ever further forwards on a path to make every car a mobile phone on wheels, a team from a Swedish car magazine conducted a test which shows that physical buttons are safer than a touchscreen.

Vi Bilägare tested the “human-machine interface”, or HMI, of 12 cars and found that operating physical buttons while driving is significantly less distracting than using a touchscreen.

For the test, the magazine brought along 11 modern cars, and one 17-year-old Volvo V70, a car at the time of its launch noted for the clarity and simplicity of its dashboard layout. All of the testers were allowed time to become acquainted with the cabin layout and the touchscreen menus of the cars before the test.

The baseline test of the old Volvo V70 found that on average it takes 10 seconds to perform a task involving pushing buttons on the dashboard. To perform the same task in the best of the moderns — the Dacia Sandero — took 13.5 seconds. That was by far the best of the cars with touchscreens. The next-best performing was the Subaru Outback, in which an average task took a chunky 19.4 seconds. The worst-performing car was the MG Marvel R, in which a driver needed 44.9 seconds to perform a task. The Volkswagen ID.3, a car which has received much criticism for the confusing layout of its infotainment system, needed 25.7 seconds to carry out a task.


With those times on the stopwatch, it means that at 110km/h, the Volvo V70 has travelled 306 metres. By contrast, the MG Marvel R has travelled 1,372 metres. Even relatively well-performing touchscreen models, such as those of the Seat Leon and BMW iX, were criticised, with the team saying that “both are still too complicated. The driver needs almost a kilometre to perform the tasks. Lots can happen in traffic during that time.”

Research by the American Automobile Association looked at 30 vehicles driven along a stretch of suburban road. They were tested by 120 different drivers, all with a clean driving licence. These drivers were monitored by AAA experts to see how distracted they became when carrying out supposedly simple tasks such as entering a destination into the navigation system, searching for a song or audio track, or making a call on their phone, all using the car’s integrated systems.

Somewhat surprisingly, the AAA’s study found that entering a new destination into the satnav was actually the most distracting task of all, ahead of text messaging, but there were effectively no winners in the research. None of the cars tested received a “low-demand” score when it came to using their infotainment systems, and only seven of the 30 were rated as being of “moderate” demand. The rest were either “high” or “very high” demand.

The AAA urged drivers to “remember that just because technologies come installed in a vehicle does not mean automaker testing has proven they are safe to use while driving. Use these infotainment technologies only for legitimate emergencies or urgent, driving-related purposes. Car makers should improve their infotainment systems by designing systems that are no more demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook.”

According to Ireland’s Road Safety Authority, distracted driving contributes to between 20 and 30 per cent of all road accidents, which means that distraction is responsible or partly responsible for as many as 1,400 fatal or injury-causing collisions every year.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring