/ Motoring, Technology

Are touchscreens in cars a touch too far?

Tesla Model S interior

With many new cars featuring some form of touchscreen control for music, air conditioning and car settings, has anyone stopped to think whether this actually makes driving any easier or safer?

A growing number of new cars feature ever larger touchscreens, but is this really easier than good old fashioned buttons? I think not.

Peugeot has fitted the new 308 with a 9.7-inch touchscreen and ditched most of the physical buttons. But, while this is great for sitting in traffic jams, touchscreens often don’t work as well when you’re on the move. And let’s face it, that’s what driving is about.

Driving towards touchscreens

Call me a traditionalist, but I have yet to drive a car with a touchscreen that actually made life easier. Even changing the simplest setting via a touchscreen can require you to spend seconds staring at the screen trying to locate the right onscreen button. This differs to conventional buttons, where you can feel your way around by touch without taking your eyes off the road.

Even though many cars with touchscreens also have steering wheel buttons, some of these are scattered so densely that it can take even longer to find the button you want.

And this is something afflicting new cars across the spectrum – the Volkswagen Golf has touchscreen control for most functions, and the new Nissan Qashqai will have a standard 7-inch touchscreen.

Then there’s the Tesla Model S with its enormous 17-inch touchscreen, the size of a large laptop screen. The Tesla’s touchscreen can control satnav, audio settings, internet, let you change car settings and connect with your phone via Bluetooth.

Do you prefer buttons or touchscreens?

I’m all for progress and integrating new technology into cars, but I can’t see how the current range of ever larger touchscreens in cars is making driving safer. And having tried to use several touchscreen systems on the move I don’t think it’s easier either.

But what do you think? Would you rather have more conventional buttons strewn across the dashboard, or a large touchscreen? Or do you think a large screen with physical controls is the best of both worlds?


I like BMW’s iDrive, whereby a single combined button/joystick is used to control almost everything. It is located close to the gearstick and handbrake, rather than having to stretch one’s arm towards to the dashboard.

The most dangerous aspect of some in-car screens is locating them at a low level instead of as high as possible so that the driver doesn’t have to look far away from the view ahead. Low-level screens should be banned as they are inherently dangerous.

I receive several on-line newsletters and blogs on the auto industry and certainly the US auto industry has been busy showing how not to do it. Ford in particular had some appalling press on its touchscreen over the last couple of years.

My objection is that we are making cars more economically unrepairable by installing bits of kit that control so much. Rather like run-flat tyres, and foam emergency tyre repair kits, the industry is intent on saving money in as many ways as it can.

This is not a surprise but consumers are being lead into a lala land of new gimmicks which is great until repairs or faults occur. What is the anticipated life of a LCD screen compared to that of a knob or lever?

A car is a more hostile environment than a living room so what do consumers believe – it will last a decade? What do the manufacturers warrant? And how much do you think we will be gouged for the vehicle specific screen and wiring.?

Which? help us out here. How long do screen s last?

Alan Bernstone says:
20 November 2013

My personal view is that there should be nothing in any vehicle that distracts a driver from concentrating on the road ahead there are to many people using mobile phones whiles’t driving or drinking out of cans or bottles or even putting make up on I am a disabled driver who never uses anything in the vehicle that would distract me from concentrating on my driving and I do not allow any passengers to use anything that would distract me a person driving should at all times have full concentration whiles’t driving if he/she causes any accident from lack of concentation then they should face the full force of the law

I can’t see much difference between fiddling with a touch screen and fiddling with a mobile phone on the move; they are both potentially dangerous. New cars are becoming far too complicated, leading to driver distraction and potentially big repair bills. If anyone sees a Mk7 Golf coming toward them, be afraid; the driver may not be looking at his touchscreen and not at the road. The Golf ‘entertainment centre’ is hugely complex and should never be installed in a car.

I have an elderly Tom Tom that sits on the right quarter light by the windscreen. Although tempted, I do not use the touch screen on the move – it is very distracting taking your eyes off the road for the few seconds it takes to use it. I give it to my passenger if it needs changing. Similarly with my hands-free phone – if calling I only use the voice-activated numbers. I have no experience of screen-based controllers built into cars, although a car we are considering does have one. I would imagine they are even more distracting to use on the move, particularly if low on the fascia.

Thanks for the warning about touch screens on new cars. Does anybody know the cost of replacing the touch screen on the Mark7 Golf?


Problems ……

I have not looked further into the forums but as an owner you may find it helpful.

I don’t even look at the sat nav screen whilst driving. I just listen to the voice commands and follow them until I either reach my destination or get hopelessly lost. If I get lost, I pull over when safe and check the address and then see where I have ended up. It usually transpires that I took a turn off too early or too late or sometimes the sat nav map is not up to date (regardless what the manufacturers say) and I soon get back on the correct route. I would not use any touch screens during a journey as I don’t see the difference in that and using your phone to call someone. If you take your eyes off the road, even for a few seconds whilst travelling at 60mph, you are endangering yourself and other road users.

I once had a Jaguar X type with a touch screen. When it failed, the heating was on full, I couldn’t listen to any music, the demister didn’t work and the sat nav didn’t work either. The screen was blank and the associated buttons were inoperative. The repair bill was quoted at £2,000. This was when the car and I parted company. It seemed that most of the auxiliary equipment went through the screen, and I am suspicious of such technology now. Perhaps other manufacturers do it differently. The screen, when it was working, was helped by the buttons round the outside and it wasn’t usually necessary to prod it on the move. This would have been distracting to do and quite a stretch from the wheel too. My current car has an information screen, which is useful, and a separate Sat Nav, which I programme before setting out and can shut down from the steering wheel. Touch screen menues should be set and forget before travelling and, of course, the screen should work properly.

Can we please leave comfort controls off the touch screens please?

Why, oh why would you place the temperature control within a screen you have to look away from the road for?

I wish my car didn’t have climatic temp control too, it never actually is the temperature it displays – why is 18C warmer than 22C? Damn Ford! .

PeterM says:
24 December 2013

Construction and Use Regulations governing what car makers could do,have in the past prohibited any screen inside a motor vehicle from being seen by the driver and consequently distracting the drivers attention. So what is new? What has changed?

I personally dislike touch screen controls, and refuse to buy a car with one. I have driven a number of vehicles with them and find them very distracting. In the past I was an accident investigator and distracted driving is one of the major cause of accidents and I can see the touch screens becoming a big contributor to more accidents.

There are people who want this feature, but in looking at new cars, in most cases a buyer has no choice as the touch screen is standard with the exception of some manufacturers no having them in their base model. I really dislike that manufacturers aren’t giving buyers a choice, expecting some to pay for features that they don’t want.

I don’t need or want to be constantly “connected”. I spend a good part of each day up to my eyeballs in technology and spend a lot of time on the phone. When I get into my car I like to get away from work. I even turn off my cell phone while driving because it can be quite a distraction. I find that I would rather be paying attention to the road so I can avoid other distracted drivers.

I do enjoy a comfortable, decently equipped car so it appears that I will be excluded from that new cars market.

Chet,,I agree entirely and that is why I hold on to my Mark 4 Golf. In fact I have found that even just a radio playing on a long distance motorway drive can be distracting. Therefore I tend to switch it off.

Since my last post in June, I have talked to a number of friends who have purchased new cars with the touch screen feature.

None of them were big fans of the touch screen feature and some didn’t like it at all. We were riding with friends who had a new Ford Explorer and I was quite amused when the driver was having an argument with the SYNC voice recognition system that apparently doesn’t work properly all of the time.

A couple of other people also admitted that they had a few close calls of having an accident while trying to use their touch screens.

I’ll keep driving my old 2005 Buick LeSabre with its knobs and switches until the wheels fall off. By the way, I never needed nor renewed the On-Star subscription that I really didn’t want but had to pay for.

Quite how touch screen non feel eyes off the road non feel buttons were ever allowed in to cars in the first place is a joke, considering all the priority given to safety devices in car design today, it has been taken away by distracting the driver and alowing the use of webpages and app’s to be used whilst in control of a vehicle and resulting in more and more near misses and accidents
I think it should be looked into asap
And action taken swiftly

Steve says:
12 November 2016

This is yet another case of solutions in search of problems and the medium becoming the message. Why on earth do cars have to be a combination of juke box, telephone kiosk and internet café? To paraphrase the Prime Minister, Cars are cars. let them be so and have controls that are intuitive and easy to use whilst driving. I cannot see how a touch screen can possibly be as safe as ‘old fashioned’ knobs and switches. Even when using an ipad, an injudicious touch in the wrong place loses everything. They’re simply a bad idea.

I hate touch screens in cars they are dangerous.It was bad enough when they were for sat nav but now they are replacing heating controls. I have actually decided not to buy a JLR car because of this. I favour iDrive and MMi from bmw and Audi respectively. Worryingly Audi now seem to be heading down the touch screen route too. Touchscreens are for things like phones that have a lifecycle in months not cars which take years to develop and are in use for many years after that. So typically you are driving a car with 10 year old technology. Who uses a 10 year old smart phone?