European Safety Testers Will Require Buttons For Top Safety Ratings

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A recent article at The Drive tells us about some upcoming changes to Euro NCAP rules. Instead of leaving physical controls up to manufacturers and focusing on crash safety or crash prevention, Euro NCAP will give manufacturers a lower rating if some key controls don’t use physical buttons.

Tesla fans will probably not be happy with this move, because Tesla is one of the worst offenders. Instead of offering physical buttons for many things, it is cutting costs by eliminating as many physical controls as possible. Turn signals are moving away from stalks to capacitive buttons. The horn is moving away from a center button on the wheel to a little thumb capacitive button. And shifting gears (or flow of electrons)? That’s supposed to be automated with an override on a touchscreen when the computer fails to predict what you’re doing. Things like HVAC controls are all on the touchscreen for the latest models, including the direction the vents blow.

For people who love simplicity and/or worship Elon Musk, these are all seen as great moves. With some practice, people say they’re getting used to it, and they don’t think it’s unsafe at all. For shareholders, saving a few bucks on every car is great, even if the stock isn’t going up right now. In other words, there are people who are in favor of this move.

It’s also worth noting that Tesla isn’t the only automaker doing this. Other automakers are following suit, because they, too, would like to save a few bucks per vehicle, which can add up to millions for a model. 

But safety advocates and regulators aren’t as happy about this. In some other articles, I’ve shared my own concerns about it, and shared a study that shows that it takes longer (and more time with eyes off the road) to perform tasks on a touchscreen than with physical buttons. Now, Euro NCAP (a private vehicle safety tester like IIHS in the United States) is jumping in and saying that it wants manufacturers to use physical buttons for at least a few critical functions if a car is going to get the highest score.

This doesn’t include things like AC controls or the button for the next song, but it does require the hazard lights, turn signals, windshield wipers, the horn, and any “SOS” buttons to use a button, dial, or stalk.

For the people who are unhappy about this move, it’s important to point out that the Euro NCAP testing program is not a government mandate. Automakers participate in it to get a good safety score for marketing purposes, and are under no legal requirement to participate or offer vehicles for testing. Getting a slightly lower score also doesn’t result in anything but maybe bad press. But it’s unlikely that it’ll be a big enough hit to really affect sales for the tiny drop in score that a vehicle would get for the buttons when every other aspect of vehicle safety and crashworthiness is excellent or even better than everyone else.

But this will probably result in at least some non-Tesla EV manufacturers not ditching as many physical buttons as Tesla. I seriously doubt that Elon Musk will change course over a small difference in safety ratings. So, if buttonless interiors are your jam, I wouldn’t worry too much about this!

Featured image by Tesla.

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