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Study reveals that physical buttons are safer than screens, consumers agree

A study performed by Vi Bilägare, a local Swedish auto publication found that having physical buttons in a car is safer than a touchscreen infotainment system.

Eleven modern cars were gathered at an airfield and measured the time it took a driver to perform four tasks which included changing the radio station and adjusting the climate control. The tasks were performed at 110km/h.

Voice control functionality was tested, and results showed that the worst-performing car took 1400 metres to complete the task that the best-performing car took 300 metres to accomplish.

When a 2005 Volvo V70 was being tested, all four tasks were completed within 10 seconds while covering 306 metres at 110km/h.

The MG Marvel R, an EV SUV available overseas but not in Australia, took 44.6 seconds to complete all four tasks and travelled 1372 metres, more than quadruple the Volvo V70.

The BMW iX driver took almost one kilometre to perform all four tasks. The driver in the Subaru Outback took 19.4 seconds, the Mercedes-Benz GLB took 20.2 seconds, the Tesla Model 3 took 23.5 seconds, the Nissan Qashqai took 25 seconds, the Hyundai Ioniq5 took 26.7 seconds and the Cupra Leon took 29.3 seconds.

Physical buttons were disappearing from new cars with many car makers switching to screens to control many of the car’s functions in favour of a clean cabin design. Haptic screens are also much cheaper than physical buttons.

However, there’s a strong incentive for car makers to switch back to physical buttons. European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) will encourage new cars to have traditional buttons and switches for critical operations such as indicators, windscreen wipers, hazard warning lights, horns, and ‘SOS’ emergency call features, to be eligible for a five-star safety rating from 2026. This in turn will filter down to the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) as it is closely aligned with Euro NCAP.

AutoPacific, a “future-oriented automotive marketing research and product-consulting firm”, annually undertakes the Future Attribute Demand Study (FADS), a survey of over 10,000 new car “intenders” to measure demand for new vehicle technologies.

They attended the Consumer Electronics show this year and surveyed prospective consumers about their interest in three new technologies featured at the event.

The survey found that consumers aren’t willing to pay for high-tech features that car makers want to sell. Of the 11,700 surveyed found that most new vehicle intenders aren’t prepared to pay for pedestrian messaging, in-vehicle purchasing (of products, services and upgrades) and passenger-side infotainment screens.

Only 15 per cent of buyers would pay $15/month for the ability to purchase products, tech, and upgrades from the infotainment screen. Demand for this was highest among EV intenders (29 per cent) and those with children at home (28 per cent). Those who expressed interest wanted to purchase features for their car, stream video content and order food.

Pedestrian messaging is defined by AutoPacific as displays used for safety messages to pedestrians, such as telling them you are approaching or that they have the right of way. Interest in pedestrian messaging was highest with EV intenders at 25 per cent. Overall, only 17 per cent of car buyers would want to message pedestrians.

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