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Large and Dangerous Touchscreens in Cars versus Saab’s Night Panel

Large Screens in Vehicle Cabins: Balancing Information and Driver Distraction

Touchscreens in Cars: Are They a Dangerous Distraction? A Comparative Analysis of the Debate and Saab's Innovative SolutionTouchscreens in Cars: Are They a Dangerous Distraction? A Comparative Analysis of the Debate and Saab's Innovative Solution

The debate around the use of large screens in vehicle cabins and their impact on driver distraction is a hot topic in the automotive industry. The German publication, Autobild, published an article titled “Ablenkung im Auto – Touchscreens: Groß und gefährlich?” (Distraction in the Car – Touchscreens: Large and Dangerous?), which addresses the issue. The article argues that the increasing size of touchscreens in vehicle cabins can lead to significant distraction for drivers.

The article highlights a study conducted by the German Automobile Club (ADAC), which found that large screens can distract drivers for up to 5 seconds. This is a significant period, especially when traveling at high speeds. Moreover, the study found that the complexity of these screens also contributes to driver distraction. For instance, drivers may have to navigate through various menus and options to adjust their air conditioning or music volume.

Bigger, and Bigger screens

Despite these findings, many automakers are still pushing for larger screens in their vehicles. The article mentions the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which features a massive 12.8-inch touchscreen that controls most of the car’s functions. The BMW iX is another example, featuring a curved display that spans 14.9 inches. However, the article notes that not all automakers are following this trend.

Old Volvo Settings Faster Than New Touchscreen Models: Study Reveals Surprising Results

The study conducted by the Swedish publication “Vi Bilägare” compared the touchscreen controls in 11 new car models with a screenless 2005 Volvo V70. The participants were asked to adjust various settings, including seat heating, temperature, trip meter, instrument lighting, and radio, while driving. Surprisingly, the participants were able to adjust the settings on the V70 in just 10 seconds.

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However, the time increased significantly for the touchscreen models, with the Dacia Sandero taking 13.5 seconds, Tesla Model 3 taking 23.5 seconds, Seat Leon taking 29.3 seconds, BMW iX taking 30.4 seconds, and a staggering 44 seconds for the China-SUV MG Marvel R with a massive 19.4-inch touchscreen.

Study Reveals Surprising Results: Old Volvo Controls Faster Than New Touchscreen Models
Study Reveals Surprising Results: Old Volvo Controls Faster Than New Touchscreen Models

These results indicate that the traditional controls in the older Volvo V70 were faster and easier to operate while driving, highlighting the potential dangers of touchscreen controls in vehicles.

Saab’s Approach

One example of an automaker that took a different approach is Saab. The Swedish automaker, which is now defunct, was known for its reduced cockpit and the “Night Panel” function. The Saab cockpit was designed to minimize the amount of information presented to the driver. The idea was that a less cluttered dashboard would reduce distraction and help drivers focus on the road.

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Simplifying the Driving Experience

The “Night Panel” function is another Saab innovation that aimed to reduce distraction. The function allows drivers to turn off all instrument panel lighting except for the speedometer, making it easier to drive at night. Saab claimed that this feature could reduce distraction by up to 70%.

Saab night panel
Saab night panel

While the Saab cockpit and “Night Panel” function are no longer available, they serve as an example of how automakers can approach the issue of driver distraction differently. Instead of adding more screens and information, they can focus on simplifying the driving experience.

This function is not available in new vehicles, except in Scania trucks, and recently a similar feature has been added to Volvo trucks, where it can be seen that Saab’s solution was an inspiration.

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Saab "Night panel" feature
Saab “Night panel” feature

Large screens are not a problem, simplify the interface

It’s worth noting that large screens in vehicle cabins aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The issue is how they’re implemented. A well-designed touchscreen that’s easy to navigate can be helpful for drivers. For example, Tesla’s large 17-inch touchscreen has received praise for its ease of use. However, as the ADAC study found, complexity can be a significant factor in driver distraction.

Good balance is everything

The increasing size of touchscreens in vehicle cabins is a double-edged sword. While they can provide useful information and features, they can also lead to significant distraction for drivers. Automakers need to find a balance between providing enough information to be useful and not overwhelming drivers with too much information.

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Saab’s reduced cockpit and “Night Panel” function serve as examples of how automakers can approach the issue of driver distraction differently. Ultimately, the goal should be to make driving safer and more comfortable, and reducing distractions is a crucial step towards achieving this goal.

Goran Aničić
the authorGoran Aničić
For over 10 years, Goran Aničić has been passionately focused on Saab automobiles and everything related to them. His initial encounter with Saab cars took place back in 2003 when the first Saab 9-3 and sedan version were introduced. At that moment, he was captivated by the car's Scandinavian design logic and top-notch engineering, and everything that followed stemmed from that first encounter. Later on, through his work at the editorial team of the Serbian automotive magazines "Autostart" and later "AutoBild," he had the opportunity to engage more closely with Saab vehicles. In 2008, he tested the latest Saab cars of that time, such as the Saab 9-3 TTiD Aero and Saab 9-3 Turbo X. In 2010, as the sole blogger from the region, he participated in the Saab 9-5ng presentation in Trollhättan, Sweden. Alongside journalists from around the world, he got a firsthand experience of the pinnacle of technological offerings from Saab at that time. Currently, Goran owns two Saabs: a 2008 Saab 9-3 Vector Sportcombi with a manual transmission, and a Saab 9-3 Aero Griffin Sport Sedan from the last generation, which rolled off the production line in Trollhättan in December 2011.

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