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In Cars, your finger cannot easily move a touchscreen

People are lazy, according to a study. Therefore, the shift from using buttons to using more touchscreens makes sense.

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New cars take longer to complete specific tasks because of their extensive menu systems. A Swedish car magazine provided scientific evidence for this, in case you were unaware.

Twelve vehicles, mostly brand-new but also including a Volvo from 2005, were put through a battery of four tests by Vi Bilägare. In the old car, it only took 10 seconds, but in some of the newer models, it can take up to 45.

By timing the tasks while the vehicles were in motion, we can see how something as seemingly innocuous as changing the radio station can result in a significant increase in the amount of time a driver spends looking at the screen.

In the future, motorists may look back and question our collective sanity for allowing touchscreens to gradually replace more and more conventional buttons. For example, the Volkswagen ID.4’s (shown below) digital dashboard makes operating the car’s infotainment system a chore. The elimination or reduction of physical buttons may seem like a tidy improvement, but a new report from Sweden demonstrates how touchscreens and seemingly endless menus can lead to a form of distracted driving.

Swedish auto publication Vi Bilägare recently used the time it takes to perform common tasks to conclude that physical buttons are safer than touchscreens. The magazine had its reviewers perform four common tasks as they were driving:

To defrost your seat, turn on the heater, turn the thermostat up two degrees, and start the heater. Turn on the radio and tune it to a specific station (Sweden’s Program 1). You need to reset the trip meter. Reduce the brightness of the gauges and turn off the central screen.

The test drivers were given time to practice these maneuvers in each vehicle before the clocks started ticking. Twelve vehicles were presented, including the high-tech Tesla Model 3 and BMW iX as well as the more affordable Seat León and Dacia Sandero. For comparison, Vi Bilägare also brought along a 17-year-old Volvo V70 with physical buttons for days. (Pictured at top: the similarly equipped 2007 Volvo S60.)

The magazine timed the drivers as they completed each task at a speed of 68 miles per hour in their respective vehicles. The 2005 Volvo V70, equipped with its own set of buttons, allowed its owners to complete each of the four tasks in just 10 seconds. The new BMW iX required three times as long (or 30.4 seconds) to complete the same set of four tasks as the MG Marvel R (44.9 seconds).

It’s not just the lack of buttons, as Vi Bilägare points out. The way an infotainment system is designed plays a huge role, too. For instance, the iX’s system is described as “one of the most complex and complicated user interfaces ever designed” by the publication’s writers. The Seat Leon’s touch-sensitive climate control buttons don’t have backlights, which makes them difficult to use at night.

By timing drivers to see how long it takes to change the settings, the publication was able to come up with a distance that these drivers are moving (at 68 mph, remember) while they’re fiddling with buttons. This varied from more than eight-tenths of a mile (11372 m) for the MG Marvel R to slightly more than a thousand feet (306 m) for the 2005 Volvo. The majority of the vehicles clustered between 600 and 900 meters, but the Dacia Sandero and Volvo C40 were both within the first 400 meters.