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Traditional buttons and switches in cars will be encouraged to receive a top safety rating

Car makers will soon be encouraged to incorporate physical buttons, knobs, and switches for new models to achieve a five-star safety rating.

The 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, horn, and ‘SOS’ emergency call features, to be eligible for a five-star safety rating from 2026.

The Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is closely aligned with the Euro NCAP, with the new rules for a five-star rating to be rolled out in Australia at the same time.

 “In line with our next planned step-change in protocols being introduced from 2026, ANCAP will discourage manufacturers from locating key vehicle controls such as indicators, hazard lights, horn and windscreen wipers within touch screens,” ANCAP CEO Carla Hoorweg told Drive.

“Physical buttons or stalks to operate these key vehicle controls will be encouraged through scoring, with manufacturers awarded points for the prioritisation of physical controls.”

Car makers have gradually replaced physical buttons, knobs, and switches with touch screens in a bid to save manufacturing costs.

“We know driver distraction is a growing factor in road crashes, so it is important that certain in-vehicle controls are easily accessible by the driver and don’t complicate the driving task or contribute to in-car distraction or inattention,” Ms Hoorweg said.

Tesla has removed the gear shifter stalk and moved the functions to the infotainment screen where drivers are required to swipe in the direction of travel to engage drive or reverse, though there are physical buttons on the roof as a backup.

“The overuse of touchscreens is an industry-wide problem, with almost every vehicle-maker moving key controls onto central touchscreens, obliging drivers to take their eyes off the road and raising the risk of distraction crashes,” Euro NCAP Director of Strategic Development at Euro NCAP Matthew Avery told Hagerty.

“New Euro NCAP tests due in 2026 will encourage manufacturers to use separate, physical controls for basic functions in an intuitive manner, limiting eyes-off-road time and therefore promoting safer driving.”

German carmaker Volkswagen was criticised for introducing touch-sensitive steering wheel controls, known as haptic or capacitive touch buttons, which many found awkward and hard to use without averting their gaze off the road.

In October 2022, Volkswagen announced it would reverse its decision to include haptic controls and would reinstate real buttons onto its steering wheels.

Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Audi are among several brands that repositioned seat controls to the infotainment screen instead of using traditional buttons and levers.

Unlike the Australia Design Rules, which detail how a car must be built before it’s sold here, ANCAP and Euro NCAP only have rules that manufacturers must observe to satisfy safety star ratings.

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