I have driven vehicles for many decades and feel comfortable with the standard controls for steering, engine power, headlights, and so on, whether in my car, a rental car, or a pickup truck borrowed from a friend. But it seems some drivers can’t tell one control from another or how to operate vehicle controls, because the International Organization for Standards (ISO) wants vehicle manufacturers to follow ISO 12214:2010, “Road vehicles – Direction-of-motion stereotypes for automotive hand controls.” According to an ISO announcement, this document, “…gives design recommendations for the operating motions of hand controls and a method of verifying whether they meet driver expectations, or ’stereotypes’. It [the standard] will improve usability for all automotive users by designing hand controls that conform to driver needs and, in so doing, enhance driving comfort and convenience.”
I admit that lighting, air-conditioner, and heat controls might cause a bit of confusion, but isn’t it up to drivers to find out how controls work before they drive a vehicle? An experienced driver should need only a few minutes to figure out how to operate critical functions such as wipers, windshield sprayer, locks, and lights. Granted, car-rental companies could help. How about a 1-page graphical quick-start guide that explains these control operations?
According to John Shutko, chairman of the subcommittee that developed the new standard, the direction-of-motion stereotypes can have an important impact on the driver’s behavior and usability. He noted, “Failure to conform to direction-of-motion stereotypes can lead to actuation errors, longer operating times and an increase in driver workload. The standard will improve the ease of use with which the driver can recognize and use the motion of the controls, especially when the car is moving.”
Shutko might have a point. In my wife’s Toyota Corolla pushing the counter-intuitive shift control forward puts the car in reverse and vice versa. That’s just dumb engineering, even though the control clearly labels D for drive and R for reverse. Some vehicles have perversely complicated electronic equipment, but buyers have a choice and should investigate control operations before they buy something they can’t operate. But do we really need a standard to tell us how to turn on the lights or how to move the steering wheel for a right-hand turn? Except in a few cases, it seems like a lot of wasted standardization effort. –Jon Titus