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In-car touchscreens much worse for driver distraction

In-car touchscreens can be much more distracting to use compared to systems with physical buttons, potentially putting drivers at higher risks of accidents.

BMW’s iDrive was named as the easiest to use in What Car?’s test of the UK’s most and least distracting infotainment and air-con systems

A test carried out by What Car? of 20 infotainment and air-con systems found that it took twice as long to adjust heating controls on some cars with touchscreen controls rather than physical dials. And it took up to four times longer to zoom out of the sat-nav map to view a pre-programmed route using a touchscreen than it did using a rotary dial controller.

With figures indicating that distracted driving is a contributing factor in 15% of all road accidents, the tests – covering six tasks frequently carried out by drivers on the move – also found a sophisticated voice control system is the least distracting way of doing many tasks.

But levels of sophistication vary; systems in the Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all recognise natural speech, so you can activate them by talking and then ask them to carry out your desired task and hardly take your eyes off the road at all.

However, not all voice control systems are as intuitive or fast to respond; What Car?’s testers were looking away from the road for more than twice as long in cars with the worst systems.

The research also highlighted the benefits of having a range of different ways of doing a task, so the driver can choose the most convenient for each situation. The best systems let you use physical buttons, the touchscreen or voice control to do a wide range of commands.

The most and least distracting in-car control systems:

Make, model and infotainment name ​Total score out of 30
1. BMW 3 Series with Live Cockpit Professional 28
2. Mercedes-Benz CLA with 10.25in touchscreen 27
3. Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid with Connect Plus and Porsche Communication Management 27
4. Audi Q3 Sportback with Virtual Cockpit Plus 26
5. Mazda 3 with 8.8in colour display and Mazda Connect 25
6. Volkswagen Passat GTE with 8.0in Composition Media system 24
7. Ford Fiesta with Sync 3 navigation and FordPass Connect 23
8. Hyundai Ioniq with 10.25in touchscreen and Bluelink connectivity 22
9. Vauxhall Corsa with 10.0in Multimedia Navi Pro 22
10. Skoda Kamiq with 9.2in touchscreen, voice control and Amundsen sat-nav 21
11. Jaguar XE with 10.0in Touch Pro Duo system 21
12. Volvo S60 with Sensus 20
13. Toyota Corolla with Touch 2 media system and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto 20
14. Nissan Juke with Nissan Connect 19
15. Honda CR-V with 7.0in touchscreen, Honda Connect and Garmin navigation 18
16. Lexus RX with 12.3in multimedia display 18
17. Peugeot 508 SW with 10.0in Connected 3D Navigation and voice recognition 17
18. Skoda Citigo-e iV with colour screen and phone holder 16
19. Fiat 500X with 7.0in touchscreen and Uconnect Live 14
20. MG ZS with 8.0in touchscreen 12
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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.