European automotive safety body urges manufacturers to ditch touchscreens

July 4, 2024

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By Mark Buckingham, Recall Advisor

Earlier this year, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) – the leading automotive safety body in Europe – announced updates to its rating scheme for vehicle safety. The new tests, which will be introduced on 1 January 2026, encourage manufacturers to use physical controls for basic functions such as turn signals and windshield wipers. More and more manufacturers are replacing the traditional button, stalk, or dial controls for these functions with touchscreens that can be dangerously distracting.

Fatal car crashes have been on the rise in Europe in recent years, with more than 20,000 deaths in 2022. This reflects a four percent increase from 2021. As vehicles’ digital controls become more complex and more frequently oblige drivers to take their eyes off the road to adjust them, the risk of crashes caused by distraction is increasing.

Increased risk 

Touchscreens can result in drivers taking their eyes off the road for anywhere from five to 40 seconds. Matthew Avery, Euro NCAP’s director of strategic development, notes that there is an inherent lag with touchscreens and no haptic feedback to confirm the command was received, which can prompt drivers to devote more attention to the touchscreen. Additionally, touchscreens’ illumination at night can impact drivers’ ability to see, posing additional safety risks for drivers and pedestrians.

In response, Euro NCAP plans to modify its vehicle safety rules so that any vehicle “seeking maximum points for the highest safety rating of five stars must use buttons, stalks, or dials for five critical tasks.” Those tasks include using the horn, operating windshield wipers, using turn signals, engaging hazard lights, and activating SOS features. 

Benefits of voluntary compliance

While Euro NCAP’s safety rules are not mandatory, manufacturers receive many intangible benefits from complying with the rules and earning a five-star safety rating. Euro NCAP is highly regarded by European consumers. Receiving a five-star safety rating from such a trusted organisation is an important aspect of reputation-building. Once that five-star rating is received, anything less may signal to consumers that the quality and safety of a manufacturers’ entire fleet of vehicles may be lacking. Although touchscreen interfaces can be more cost-effective, complaints from consumers and growing concerns from automotive safety groups should be considered when designing new vehicles or updating legacy models.

Manufacturers will also soon see formal legislation from the European Commission take effect requiring type M and N vehicles to be equipped with advanced driver distraction warning (ADDW) systems. Beginning 7 July 2024, ADDW systems will be required in vehicles to monitor whether drivers are distracted and notify them with an alarm if they take their eyes off the road for more than a few seconds.  

Looking ahead

It is clear that distracted driving is becoming a more prevalent issue for the automotive industry. In addition, consumer demands are shifting away from aesthetic and streamlined in-cabin designs back to accessible and low-distraction controls. Amidst greater scrutiny of vehicle controls and all the ways drivers can be distracted, manufacturers should review existing regulations and recommendations to ensure they are on the right side of regulatory oversight and consumer opinion. 

Trusted by the world’s leading brands, Sedgwick brand protection has managed more than 7,000 of the most time-critical and sensitive product recalls in 100+ countries and 50+ languages, over 30 years. To find out more about our product recall and remediation solutions, visit our website here.

Tags: Auto, automobile, automotive, Brand, Brand protection, Brands, Europe, motor, Preserving brands, Safety