Reader sounds off about touch screens

Friday, December 9, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray: I've been looking around for a new car, and I noticed that touch screens are becoming more common as part of the dashboard controls (e.g., Toyota Prius, Acura MDX, Lexus 330, etc). I HATE them. I think they are unsafe and, moreover, just tacky. You have to take your eyes off the road to use them, plus at night you have this bright screen screwing with your night vision. What is your opinion of this trend? It's OK if you want to have an LCD for the navigation system, but it should be optional, and if you do have an LCD for navigation, it shouldn't be used for other stuff (heater, radio). It's been driving me crazy, and I had to get it off my chest. By the way, I'm no Luddite -- I'm a retired computer-graphics software developer, and I love gadgets.

Dan

Tom: I couldn't agree more, Dan. If you had been reading our column regularly instead of using it to line your bird cage, like most people do, you'd know that we've taken carmakers to task for this very issue.

Ray: These touch screens, iDrives and Multi-Media Interfaces FORCE you to take your eyes off the road. What kind of moronic engineering is that?

Tom: You used to be able to adjust the heat in your car by reaching over and twisting a dial, sliding a lever or pushing a button. You could do it by feel. Radio volume? Same thing. Change the station? You know where the tuning knob is -- reach over and give it a twist.

Ray: But with these idiotic systems, you have to drill down through several layers of hierarchical menus, each time looking at a screen to make your selection, and all the while hoping that nothing happens on the road in front of you while you're busy trying to figure out how to make the computer switch the radio from AM to FM.

Tom: Automakers must figure that we're easily impressed by lights and beeps and screens. And I guess some of us are. But using visual controls to operate basic, frequently used automotive functions is a dangerous step backward in auto safety. Not to mention a complete pain in the keister.

Ray: So if you don't like these things, the clearest, loudest message you can send is to not buy a car that requires you to use a video screen for basic, everyday functions like heating, cooling and audio. Make it a deal-breaker.

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