CC Conundrum/QOTD: Are Car Controls Getting Too Complicated And Distracting?

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This is my great-aunt Mary’s 2005 Cadillac DeVille. Her husband, my great-uncle Joe drives a similar, slightly updated version of this car, a 2006 Cadillac DTS. At 78 and 88 years old, respectively, neither of them do much serious driving anymore. Beyond an occasional 45-minute drive up to Boston, their driving is mainly limited to local errands such as going to the gym, church, and out to dinner. But with these cars getting on in age, for the past several years now, both of them have expressed desire to replace them with a new car.

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Before these two Caddys, uncle Joe and aunt Mary used to purchase a new car every 3-5 years, so at 10 years, these cars have served them longer than any others in their lifetime. By no means do either of them urgently need to replace these cars, as both are in good mechanical order with exceptionally low mileage. That being said, they certainly have the financial means – so why shouldn’t they treat themselves to a new car?

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The problem is, they’re afraid to. In the last five years, in-vehicle technology has advanced at an exponential pace no one could’ve imagined just ten years ago. While much of this technology has been implemented in the name of making driving safer (various blind-spot, collision alert, self braking, and voice-activated technologies), the thought of getting used to a new car with new technology can be daunting to anyone unfamiliar with them.

Source: Motortrend

Additionally, the widespread replacement of intuitive physical buttons with touchscreens and flat buttons is an immensely difficult challenge for many people to adapt to. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system found on new models such as the XTS, the car Joe and Mary would probably buy, has received especially strong criticism for its difficulty of use. As Mary said about her current DeVille, “If I want it warmer, I turn the dial one way, if I want it cooler, I turn it the other way”. Especially for those requiring reading glasses, trying to see the outlines of menu buttons on a touch screen is frustrating, not to mention unsafe while driving.

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The way my uncle Joe put it, “We’ve been driving these cars for so long, and I know where everything is. I don’t need to look down at any of the controls, I just feel.” Now I should add that Joe and Mary are as sharp as they’ve always been, and do their best when it comes to learning new technology. The both use cellphones and he even owns an iPad which he mainly uses to read the Wall Street Journal and check the stock market daily. But trying to read a touchscreen and feel for non-raised buttons while driving is a different story.

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The sad truth is that many collisions are caused by distractions or some erroneous action such as shifting into reverse instead of drive, or mistaking the gas pedal for the brake. New teenage drivers may be more likely to cause an accident, but the percentage also increased towards the other end of the age spectrum.

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People of any age don’t need the unnecessary distractions while driving, especially when distractions are caused by the car itself. This isn’t to say that there aren’t many who both prefer the latest in-car technologies, and derive great benefit from them. However, there will always by plenty who simply aren’t comfortable with an overabundance of technology dominating their center console, particularly if they don’t plan on using many of these features.


In their final years of production, cars like the Buick Lucerne, previous-generation Toyota Avalon, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Cadillac DTS often received a lot of hate for being “geriatric”, “outdated”, and “behind-the-times”. I recall one automotive magazine even singling out the Lucerne for “still offering a bench seat and column shifter”.

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But when you look at it from the other side, from people who bought these cars for their user-friendliness and familiarity, it’s easy to see that there is still a need for cars with a back-to-basics approach.

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Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find cars of that type. The honest truth for those uncomfortable with high-technology is either try and adjust to a new car with confusing controls, or just keep driving what they currently have, which might be just what my great aunt and uncle will have to do.


Related Reading:

Driving Impressions – 2005 Cadillac DeVille