Are touchscreens on vehicle dashboards a bad idea?

If you’re feeling more distracted than ever in your new car with that fancy touchscreen infotainment system, you’re not mistaken.


A new study conducted by the United Kingdom’s largest road-safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, has confirmed that  drivers using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have reaction times that are even slower than someone who had used cannabis, and five times worse than someone driving at the British legal limit of alcohol consumption.

Taking your eyes off the road for 16 seconds to adjust music or vehicle settings on the dashboard screen may not sound like a long time, but at 70km/h, your car would have travelled more than 500 metres while you were swiping around. The test found that using touch control on vehicles interfaces actually resulted in driver reaction times that were even worse than texting while driving.

At the CarBuyer office, we were already long skeptics of the widespread use of huge touchscreen interfaces in cars, as they seem more like a way for manufacturers to more easily program firmware updates to the software than actually helping you drive more efficiently and safely.

Neil Greig, policy and research director of IAM RoadSmart, said, “While previous research indicates that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto perform better than more traditional buttons and controls, the results from this latest study raise some serious concerns about the development and use of the latest in-vehicle infotainment systems. Anything that distracts a driver’s eyes or mind from the road is bad news for road safety.

We’re now calling on industry and government to openly test and approve such systems and develop consistent standards that genuinely help minimise driver distraction.”

During the study, drivers completed a series of three drives on the same simulated test route to assess the level of impact of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. On the first run, drivers did not interact with the system. On subsequent runs, drivers interacted with the system using voice control only and then using touch control only.

Both methods of control were found to significantly distract drivers, however touchscreen control proved the more distracting of the two. 

While drivers in the test were generally aware enough to realise the system was causing a distraction and took a more cautious approach on the road, performance was still adversely affected with drivers unable to maintain a constant distance to the vehicle in front, reacting more slowly to sudden occurrences and deviating outside of their lane.

Official reaction times of the drivers were recorded as more than 50 per cent slower when selecting music through Spotify while using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via touch control compared to old-school texting on the phone while driving. Use of either system via touch control typically caused drivers to take their eyes off the road for longer than 12 seconds. 

While Singapore does not have official statistics on the number of road accidents that are caused by distracted driving, the country recorded 116 fatal accidents in 2019, and there were 7666 accidents that resulted in injuries.

Interestingly, there were 59,368 cases of vehicles beating traffic lights in 2019, compared to 55,433 cases in 2018. Perhaps more drivers are really swiping on their phone GPS screens and taking their attention off the road, whether they actively realise it or not.  

about the author

Lionel Kong
An old hand from the bad old days of crazy COEs, the straight-shooting, ex-CarBuyer editor is back in the four-wheeled world. Rumours that he went to another country to start a Judas Priest tribute band are unfounded.