These days our vehicles area replete (replete!) with safety technology. We’ve got automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping, reverse cameras, automatic highbeams, and so much more. There is so much to say about any of these systems and how they make our vehicles safer. But, for today, let’s restrict our focus to touch screens, knobs, and lights. Specifically, let’s talk about what’s wrong them.
Touch screens are ubiquitous in new vehicles. Is that a good thing? No, obviously not. Firstly, touch screens are distracting. Our eyes are drawn to them like TVs in a sports bar. And, unlike physical buttons, you have to keep your eyes on a touchscreen to use it because there’s no tactile difference between inputs. Secondly, the UX on most infotainment systems is terrible. The capacitive touch sensors are poor, the menus are cluttered, and responsiveness is slow. All of that means translates to even more time spent trying to change a setting that used to be facilitated by a single button press.
Ultimately, touch screens don’t solve a problem (no, boredom isn’t a problem when it comes to driving) which is a certain sign of a bad invention. But I don’t foresee automakers removing screens from their vehicles. Screens are simply too popular and flashy. They’re also necessary for displaying the reverse camera’s image. So, they’ll probably continue to get bigger and more numerous until robots finally take over driving for us. Then we can just focus on Netflix.
Signal Light Colours
My friend drives a relatively new Chevrolet Equinox. For the most part, it seems like a great vehicle. But when he unlocks it with his fob, the reverse lights activate for a few seconds. Apparently, this is common on a number of GM vehicles. The first time I saw him trigger the lights, I was a little confused… and then annoyed. Frankly, there’s no compelling reason for this design choice. Most automakers use other lights to indicate the same thing. Brake lights or turn lights are bright and they don’t suggest that a driverless SUV is about to lurch out of its parking stall. Obviously (I thought), reverse lights should be used for reversing only.
Speaking of light colours, what’s up with red turn signals? Studies, and common sense, have shown that amber coloured turn signals are the best choice. Red turn signals just blend into brake lights. As a result, they can be difficult to distinguish in busy traffic. In some places, amber turn signals are standard, but not in North America. Again, there’s no good reason why automakers shouldn’t make the most of contrasting light colours to improve safety technology. Brake lights are red, turn signals are amber, and reverse lights are white. It’s simple.
People are usually split on the issue of headlights. On the one hand, it’s obviously dangerous to have vehicles driving around with dim headlights. On the other hand, some modern headlights on the highway shine straight into my retina with the fury of the the sun god Ra. Basically most manufacturers use standard halogens, HID (high-intensity discharge) that uses xenon gas, or LED. HIDs are certainly effective at illuminating (blinding), but, according to the experts, LEDs are the best. They’re bright, they consume little power, and they’re small. Their convenient size means that they can be arranged differently which is good for both pragmatic and aesthetic design.
Halogens, meanwhile, are useless. Frankly, it’s hard to believe that manufacturers still use these. They consume more power and die sooner than the alternatives. I guess that means dealers want to include LEDs and HIDs as premium available options, so they can makes a bit more money in the showroom. When it is a question of safety, they should really be more responsible. But, you won’t find too many businesses these days that will reduce their profitability out of the goodness of their hearts. Someone needs to force their hands. That’s where the IIHS and NHTSA come in.
Safety Technology & the IIHS
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety wield great influence over auto manufacturers. Their regulations translate into safer roads in as little as a year. Almost all new vehicles come with standard reverse cameras. That’s because the NHTSA demanded it. Those cameras, and comparable safety technology, are also an important part of receiving the IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ distinction. The IIHS’s safety picks have become the standard for the auto industry. If an automaker, like Buick, wants to brand itself as safe, it must meet IIHS standards.
Of course, it would be nice if automakers acted first in the interest of actual safety and not in the interest of marketable safety distinctions. And the IIHS’ outsized influence on manufacturers may be problematic. But, as things stand, the institution is an important force for improving road safety. Demanding that automakers design safe lighting systems, and, at minimum, make touchscreens easier to use.
Have you noticed any unsafe design or engineering choices not mentioned above? Drop a comment below?