Traditional buttons and switches to be required for top safety rating – report

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Car manufacturers will soon be required to use physical knobs, buttons, and switches for a new model to obtain a five-star safety rating.

Europe’s independent crash-test organisation – and in turn its counterpart in Australia – is tipped to make physical buttons and switches a requirement for a five-star safety rating,

According to Hagerty, the European New Car Assessment Programme (better known as Euro NCAP) will require new cars to have traditional buttons and switches for critical operations – such as indicators, hazard warning lights, windscreen wipers, horn, and ‘SOS’ emergency call features – to be eligible for a five-star safety rating from 2026.

The Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is very closely aligned with the Euro NCAP, meaning the new rules for a five-star rating are likely to be introduced here.

Led by Tesla, the automotive industry has been gradually getting rid of physical knobs, buttons, and switches, with ever more operations migrating to touchscreens – all in an effort to save manufacturing costs.

Tesla has even axed the gear shifter stalk, moving the functions to the infotainment screen, with drivers required to swipe in the direction of travel to engage drive or reverse (with physical buttons on the roof as a backup).

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“The overuse of touchscreens is an industry-wide problem, with almost every vehicle-maker moving key controls onto central touchscreens, obliging drivers to take their eyes off the road and raising the risk of distraction crashes,” Euro NCAP Director of Strategic Development at Euro NCAP Matthew Avery told Hagerty.

“New Euro NCAP tests due in 2026 will encourage manufacturers to use separate, physical controls for basic functions in an intuitive manner, limiting eyes-off-road time and therefore promoting safer driving.”

Volkswagen came under fire for introducing touch-sensitive steering wheel controls – also known as haptic or capacitive touch buttons – which many drivers found fiddly and difficult to use without taking their eyes off the road.

In October 2022, the German car giant announced it would reverse its decision to fit haptic controls and would reintroduce real buttons onto steering wheels.

In July 2023, Volkswagen filed a patent for a new steering wheel with buttons inside the rim.

Meanwhile, air conditioning vents on Volkswagen’s new generation of electric models – as well as Tesla electric vehicles – are controlled via the central touchscreen.

Modern Ferrari supercars have had individual indicator buttons located on each side of the steering wheel for many years, and Tesla’s latest Model 3 controversially got rid of an indicator stalk in favour of switches on the left-hand side of the steering wheel pad.

Volkswagen, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz are among several brands that have moved seat controls to the infotainment screen, rather than using traditional buttons and levers.

Unlike the Australian Design Rules – which specify how a car has to be built before it’s sold here – ANCAP (and its Euro NCAP cousin) merely have rules to which manufacturers must adhere to meet safety star ratings.

Drive has contacted ANCAP for comment and this story will be updated with its response.

Ben Zachariah is an experienced writer and motoring journalist from Melbourne, having worked in the automotive industry for more than two decades. Ben began writing professionally more than 15 years ago and was previously an interstate truck driver. He completed his MBA in Finance in early 2021 and is considered an expert on classic car investment.

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