Car designers and engineers often fight for space on the prime piece of real estate in a car or truck: the instrument cluster. However, a recent survey suggests that the space they’re getting isn’t used well.
The Insurance.com study suggests the design effort that goes into designing the lights and signals found on the instrument hasn’t helped motorists and most motorists find the signals confusing and unintelligible.
The website surveyed 2,000 drivers asking them to identify 10 common dashboard lights. The icons for partially closed doors, air bag problems and child safety lock activation were correctly identified more often than warning lights for tire pressure, brakes, low fuel and engine overheating.
The survey also found the vast majority of drivers – roughly 82% – don’t think cars have too many warning lights, but not everyone knows what they mean. In fact, 49% couldn’t figure out the tire pressure warning light and 46% could not decipher the meaning of brake system warning light.
Some other signals missed by participants:
- 42% missed the signal that the cruise control was activated
- 40% missed the signal nothing fog lights were on
- 24% missed the electrical problem warning light
- 17% missed the low-fuel and the engine temperature warning lights
- 11% missed the child safety lock activation warning light
- 10% missed the front air bag needs service warning light
- 7% missed the open-door warning light
Also almost half of drivers indicated they would not know what to do if their car’s tire pressure or brake system warning light flashed, and nearly 20% of don’t know what the low-fuel light means, according to the survey.
“One has to question the effectiveness of warning lights, especially in cases where well over a third of drivers can’t guess what they mean,” said Michelle Megna, Insurance.com managing editor.
Respondents were asked to rank the level of confidence they had in knowing what various warning lights mean with “very confident,” “might know” and “probably wouldn’t know.”
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When asked how confident they would be in knowing what the lights meant without referring to their owner’s manual, just 37% of drivers said they were “very confident.” Nearly half (49%) said they “might know” and 12% admitted they “probably wouldn’t know.”
Men felt more confident than women by a 19-point margin: 47% of the men were confident they knew what the signals meant, while on 28% of the women felt the same. Nine percent of the men surveyed said they “probably wouldn’t know” what the signals meant, while 15% of the women said they probably wouldn’t know.
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“Despite all the advances in car technology, mysterious warning lights persist,” said Megna. “Maybe it’s time do something revolutionary, like use words instead of icons.”
As for that somewhat mysterious D2 on your shift options, 71% of the respondents knew that it is used to manually decelerate – for instance, when climbing or descending steep hills. However, in this instance more women knew its purpose than men: 75% to 66%. Eight percent of men said D2 was used parking lot driving while just 4% of women thought the same.
Insurance.com commissioned the survey of 2,000 licensed drivers age 18 and older. Respondents were split evenly between males and females and distributed across age groups according to Census data on age distribution. The online-panel survey was fielded in October 2013.
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