A Look At (and Into) Screens on the Dashboard

When I was a kid, my favorite comic strip was Dick Tracy.  During the 1970’s, there were many gadgets that were woven into the storyline. The most famous was the 2-way wrist TV, which transmitted voice and picture on a device the size of a large watch  The images were also transmitted on flat screens located in the police squad room, and on occasion, the there was a drawing of a police car from the inside view, showing a flat screen mounted above the dashboard, by a pole extending to the inside of the car roof. Certainly, artist and author Chester Gould had a great imagination, and was 40 years ahead of his time.

Today we have smartphones, smartwatches, flatscreen TVs in our homes, and screens mounted not on top of our car dashboards, but in the dash. Their purpose is to provide access to multiple functions – it displays a backup camera, navigation system, the entertainment system (what they used to call the radio), along with various other bits of probably useful (or not) information, like how many miles you traveled, how many miles per gallon, how many miles you can travel on the remaining fuel, etc.  With some cars, the screen provides access to primary functions like climate control, which can include settings for fan control or heated seats, like on several Acura models, for example.

Acura’s touchscreen (On Demand Multi-Display) on the 2018 TLX Sedan.

Climate Control Systems – some are on hard buttons below, some are on the lower bar on the touch screen. Touch the seat controls icon and the screen brings up more details and more choices.


Cadillac’s CUE Infotainment screen.

With these advances in touch-screen technology, items that were once controlled by buttons are now buried within menus on touch screens. As one automaker explains it, the goal of eliminating buttons is to unclutter the dashboard. The extreme of this is Tesla’s dashboard, which has virtually no buttons.  Everything is controlled by a screen that looks like a 17 inch iPod that’s been glued to the dashboard.


Tesla’s Touchpad Screen.

Personally, I don’t see any problems with clutter by having buttons on the dashboard – unless, of course, you’re still driving a mid -90’s BMW 7 series, or a 2008-2012 Honda Accord. The dashboards on these cars are an all-out buttonfest.



Having all the controls and information in your dashboard screen is leading to a noticeable result for drivers – distractions!

By programming the navigation system, or trying to find the air flow control inside the touch screen , the driver is taking their eyes off the road for a few seconds.  Maybe 5 seconds. Or 10. Or more.  Or about 20. Or by the time you get the darn navigation system to FINALLY recognize the road you are telling it to go to, it could be forty seconds of poking at that screen, saying a few naughty words, and looking away from the road.  During that time, you could potentially hit two parked cars and go through a brick wall – or worse.

The most important thing in driving is to be alert and look where you are going. Some cars have features that don’t require your attention away from the road in order to use them:

Voice Activation – this technology is becoming more common in newer cars. Depending on your model, you can speak commands to find an address on the navigation system, make a phone call (or answer the phone), change the radio station or source of music, and some might even change the temperature and other climate controls.

Heads up Display – Here is another feature that has trickled down from the higher priced cars to the more moderate vehicles.  Information such as speed, speed limits, navigation instructions, radio stations or music source, and temperature, can be projected onto a portion of the driver’s side windshield.  Some cars, like Mazda’s optional heads up display, use a retractable concave plastic shield that rises on the dashboard behind the gauge area.

Whether your car has a touch screen or lots of buttons, you still need to exercise caution. The best way to ensure safety is to use your car’s options is when the car is stopped or waiting at a traffic light. In fact, some functions, like phone book directory for example, are grayed out on some cars until you come to a complete stop.

As I mentioned in previous blogs, cars are now equipped with more active safety features.  That doesn’t mean we can depend on them to the point where we become lazy and careless drivers.  If you really feel you want to do all kinds of things while you are in the car,  – use the infotainment system, send text messages, check your email, listen to a ball game – all in order to save time during the day, then you have to add one more feature to your car, which doesn’t come from the factory.  A chauffer.


Will Schirmer’s passion and knowledge of cars extends almost 40 years. Will has been a certified sale professional with three car manufacturers, and is now an Insurance Advisor, providing coverage for client’s automobiles, homes, specialty items, as well as financial protection for families.  Contact Will at will@willschirmer.com