Recently in Germany, the Higher Regional Court in Karlsruhe confirmed that an unidentified driver received a €200 fine and a one month driving ban for being distracted by an electronic device. The device in question? The touchscreen on his Tesla Model 3. The incident, which took place in late 2019, occurred while the driver had been using the vehicle’s touchscreen controls to adjust the windscreen wiper speed, with the car leaving the road and crashing.
On the Model 3, the wiper stalk provides very limited control, instead relying on an ‘Auto’ setting for the majority of use. In some conditions, drivers find this is not sufficient, making it necessary to access the touchscreen for finer control. This involves opening the wiper panel and then choosing one of five settings. The core issue in the German case was that the court considered the touchscreen an electronic device, bringing the screen under a law designed to combat in-vehicle phone use. The driver’s interaction with the electronic device should be “only a brief glance…, adapted to the road, traffic, visibility and weather conditions”.
The Model 3 is not unique in offering critical controls on the infotainment screen. Many OEMs are moving towards partial or full on-screen HVAC control, and ADAS functionality can also often be found integrated into the IVI system.
The trend of incorporating HVAC controls into the infotainment system leads to increased time with eyes off the road, the Golf 8 being a good example. Previous generations of Golf offered manual controls which could be operated without looking, requiring minimal eyes-off-road time and providing clear, natural haptic feedback. By contrast, the new system has a deeper menu structure and provides no haptic feedback, therefore the user cannot receive confirmation of their input without looking at the system.
Although conventional controls consistently score higher in SBD’s infotainment and ADAS HMI usability assessments at the moment, new technology such as haptics, three-dimensional screen surfaces, personalization and biometrics may in future provide satisfactory alternatives that can be operated as simply as a conventional system or require minimal interaction.
It is tempting for OEMs to implement ADAS user controls within a digital interface due to their quantity and possible number of settings, but this should be approached with caution. Careful attention should be paid to prioritization and contextualization, ensuring the system provides appropriate and 'intelligent' user inputs and outputs according to factors such as driving mode, speed and user preference. SBD has encountered many poor implementations, one example being the Model S. The controls are hidden in submenus which cannot be accessed quickly, particularly by drivers not fully familiar with the car. This may be considered acceptable for functionality that is rarely or never altered, but in the case of Lane Departure Warning, for example, it is likely that the driver will need convenient access to switch it on or off.
Car buyers are unlikely to accept a reversal in the application of new technology in infotainment systems. Indeed, restrictions cause users frustration and a significant drop in the overall customer experience. One example is Google’s feature blocking scrolling in Android Auto, which led to users disconnecting their phones and scrolling on the device instead. This has now been replaced with a ‘Safety pause’ which blocks the screen after several seconds of scrolling while driving.
The appetite for new technology leaves manufacturers with the task of improving future systems to minimize distraction, from the information architecture and interface design, through division of touchscreen and physical controls to voice integration and hardware placement. This requires expert and end-user testing to measure each element in a real-world environment (or sufficiently realistic simulation) and quantify all distractive elements.
In some cases, a good VPA will allow drivers to traverse menu structures quickly and complete tasks efficiently, but users are slow to change their habits and in many cases this will not be the solution. It is entirely possible to develop a system that both meets users’ needs, and minimizes distraction, but in order to achieve this, extensive expert and end user distraction testing will be necessary.
The primary method SBD uses for these tests is biometrics - taking readings such as eye tracking, pupil dilation, GSR (galvanic skin response) and EEG (electroencephalogram) to quantify the user’s level of stress, where their focus is, the intensity of emotion and an indication of cognitive load.
Advances in technology today are faster than ever before, leading to OEMs integrating increasing levels of functionality and complexity into infotainment systems, often unsuccessfully. ADAS integration is a particularly pertinent example, frequently leading to driver confusion due to unclear iconography, feature naming and user interfaces.
As systems become more intelligent and more able to predict the driver’s immediate requirements, fewer controls will be required. The wiper system in the Model 3 is a good example of this, however in this case it is not sufficiently ‘intelligent’ to operate adequately in all conditions. The failover mechanism which relies mostly on the touchscreen, is poorly implemented for immediate use (such as a sudden downpour) and requires hand/eye coordination rather than one simple finger movement.
This court ruling sets a precedent for a driver being penalized for operating vehicle controls in the intended manner and could have far-reaching implications for future implementations of in-vehicle infotainment and controls. To stay ahead, OEMs need to investigate ways of quantifying driver distraction and cognitive load in order to allow them to define, benchmark, and achieve acceptable levels in IVI systems.