Car manufacturers tend to do away with buttons inside cars, replacing them with real tablets. But a study says that buttons are safer and even faster to use.

New evidence shows touchscreens are far less secure and ineffective than the ‘old-fashioned’ alternative, according to findings by Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare, quoted by Futurism.

Over the summer, the magazine tested 12 car models, 11 modern and a 2005 Volvo with physical controls, after drivers had time to familiarize themselves with the vehicles.

How are buttons found to be more secure than screens?

The tests themselves were simple: drivers were instructed to drive down an empty airstrip at a speed of 110 km/h and were timed after completing four tasks, from adjusting the air conditioning to tuning the radio.

The Swedish magazine found that the 2005 Volvo car far outperformed modern touchscreen-equipped cars, with one driver completing all four tasks in just 10 seconds and 305 metres.

The best time in modern cars was almost 14 seconds. But this was an exception, as for most infotainment-equipped vehicles, it took over 20 seconds and at least 600 meters.

It is not the most rigorous empirical study and the sample size is small, but the result should give us food for thought.

On the border between old and new

There’s no doubt that the infotainment systems are powerful, equipped with everything we could need, from 360-degree cameras to advanced GPS navigation. But when interfaces for, say, windshield wipers or climate control aren’t user-friendly, they can mislead the driver.

The buttons are safer because they have a certain tactility that allows drivers to intuitively find and adjust them without taking their eyes off the road. This is also not true for touchscreens. In addition, the physical buttons will be in the same place every time, while the buttons on the screens could change their position depending on the application in use.

Has the rush for minimalism and simplicity, but also technology, turned cars into distracting devices? We can’t know for sure, but now we have some evidence.

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