• The Safety of Modern Day Vehicle User Interfaces

    Posted on 31-08-22 by Jack Woolsey

    Are modern day Vehicle User Interfaces safe, or are they leading to more distraction on the road?  Chloe Marshall, Delivery Consultant in our Technology division takes a look at the developing technology in our vehicles.


    Vehicles are an integral part of society and have been for 1000s of years, progressing from horseback and carts to modern day cars and planes. The automotive manufacturing industry to date is worth around $2.86tn (revenue/annum) and to continue building this market, the companies within the industry are focused on innovation. One such way this innovation demonstrates itself is by the development of User Interface and Experience.

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    The UI development of cars stretches as far back as the conception of them. Initially car UIs were made up of physical components – such as buttons to control the radio and dials to display speeds and RPM. As technology has evolved, cars began using digital screens to display information – maintaining the use of buttons to control these, however in recent years, these digital displays have evolved to be touchscreen, voice activated, and phone controlled.

    As cars continue to advance in tandem with technology, the safety of these features must also be evaluated. Although touchscreen infotainment boxes have become a mainstream feature in modern cars and a popular selling point, the safety has been a hot topic of conversation.

    Recent studies/tests have discovered that physical buttons are much easier to operate than touchscreen interfaces – with the findings showing that buttons are significantly more convenient. In one test, a sample of drivers were asked to complete a series of tasks on a 17-year-old car using buttons. This sample completed the set of tasks in 10 seconds travelling at a speed of 110km/h (the car covering 300m in this time). When compared to the sample operating touchscreen infotainment systems, the same tasks took an average of 24 seconds – over twice as long as the button-operated systems. This means the driver would be distracted for double the time when using touchscreen compared to physical buttons, providing a wider timeframe for accidents.

    Earlier research commissioned by IAM RoadSmart in 2019 also found that infotainment systems increased the average stopping distance by approximately 4 car lengths, additionally reaction times were even worse than texting whilst driving.

    Safety is paramount whilst driving cars and any distractions that can be avoided/reduced should be – so why not revert to physical buttons? The convenience and enjoyment of car use is also a significant contributor which would argue in favour of modern-day UI, so any car manufacturer looks to satisfy both factors. This is where voice-activated systems come into play.

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    Honda created the first voice-control system for cars in 2004, however, it was closer to 2013 when Apple introduced car-play that embedded car voice technology took off – many cars manufactured after 2018 have voice-control as a feature. Although the pioneering aspect of voice-control systems is the convenience of use, safety is also a factor of its development.

    Tests conducted by Digital Radio UK and Radioplayer established that success for finding radio stations were roughly twice as high when using voice control compared to touchscreen and glances away from the road were a sixth the number favouring voice control. The same study also produced qualitative results with drivers stating they found voice control easy to learn and safer than touchscreen usage.

    There is still further work to do as voice control still proves to be a distraction on the road, with a need for infotainment system safety outweighing the desire for convenience. Advancements within infotainment systems should be heavily focused on safety, once this barrier is tackled the capacity for optimisation, reducing driver workload and increasing convenience can then be capitalised on.


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