RAC

Motorists' understanding of technology in their cars

Cars of today have more technology fitted to them than ever before. But do people know what is fitted to their cars, do they know how to use it properly and how often do they actually use it?

These new technologies fall broadly into two camps - passive safety technologies, for example ABS that do not require driver input for them to work and active technologies that require driver input such as SatNav.

While there is an extensive range of sophisticated in-car technology available in cars today, the majority of motorists do not have many safety features over and above, airbags (92%), ABS (70%), seatbelts with sound/warning symbols (68%). This means if current new car sales continue at around 2 million a year, and the average age of a car is maintained at 5.2 years, it will take some 10-15 years before the majority of motorists can take advantage of advanced safety features such as brake assist, ESP, blind spot sensors, collision warning, and lane departure warning.

Dashboard warning symbols

Battery symbol94% of people recognised this as the battery symbol

Oil symbol94% of people recognised this as the oil symbol

Airbag symbol50% of people recognised this as the airbag symbol

Coolant temperature symbol2% of people recognised this as the coolant temperature symbol

Engine symbol1% of people recognised this as the engine symbol

Similarly there are now more warning lights than ever before ? making drivers even more dependent on the information being given to them by their cars. In addition to the traditional lights for oil pressure and battery charging there are new ones warning us if fluids are low and if technology is not working or even switched on.

When shown a series of dashboard warning symbols motorists are not always clear about what they refer to.

Many symbols appear to be common or broadly similar across all manufacturers. But there is a wide range of variation as to what a symbol actually means. For example, an oil symbol can mean either levels or pressure is low, an ESP or airbag symbol could mean it is disengaged but it could also mean that it is malfunctioning or it is in operation.

Colours also have significance; red normally means danger/stop immediately, orange/amber, that something needs attention, and green purely information. But this can vary as well.

New technologies are bringing with them even more confusion. Take for example the Vauxhall, BMW and Honda lane departure symbols.

Helping the motorist understand

In our survey, 85% of motorists agreed with the statement. The complexity of cars today means people need to be shown how to use in-car technology properly. This would normally be done when a new vehicle is handed over by the dealer, but a formal handover does not always happen, particularly with company cars.

With second hand purchases, there is an increased reliance on the instruction manual. When asked, 85% of respondents agreed with the statement. Car manufacturers need to improve the clarity of information on car technology, including making manuals more user friendly.

RAC calls for:

  • Pan-European code of practice to be implemented standardising the dashboard display symbols and lights. It should be made easier for motorists to understand the meaning of warning lights as well as the level of risk they face.
  • Wider use of LCD screens in new cars to provide drivers with plain English explanations of warnings and associated remedies
  • Car manuals need to be developed and written in a more consumer friendly way with downloadable quick user guides for the second hand car market. Manufacturers should also ensure that their warning symbols and explanations are readily accessible online, so that customers can identify problems quickly.
  • Dealers should consider inviting new owners of second hand cars to be briefed on the technology and how their new car operates.

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