A satnav is a device that people are often tempted to use while actually driving, which is a dangerous thing to do as they are distracted from driving while operating it.

Should the interaction design be made deliberately difficult (or even impossible, which could be done as a satnav knows its moving) in order to discourage this or as easy as possible in order to cater for those who are tempted ?

  • I mean specifically in situations where use is dangerous, so the question isn't 'should something be easy to use' but 'should something that people might be tempted to use in dangerous situations be easy to use, or should its design discourage attempts to use it in those states' much more specific, I will rewrite shortly to be more clear.
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 15:06
  • The specificity is the situation, not the device
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 15:06
  • 2
    What if I'm on the passenger seat while somebody else is driving? Will the device be able to tell it?
    – Eugene
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 18:47
  • Lots of assumptions here. Speech input for instance is a feature on all high-end devices.
    – MSalters
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 8:46

4 Answers 4


"Easy to use" indicator is average measure, based on stats. In a dangerous situation a driver or engine driver or skipper could be out of average, but outcomes could be too serious.

So the way is to limit abilities, see an image from car system manual:
enter image description here

There are also some design guidelines conserning safety of on-board navigation and entertainment systems. Take a look at:
· U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes 'Distraction' Guidelines for Automakers,
· NHTSA Guidelines Endorse OnStar Approach to Telematics,
. US Seeks Voluntary Limits On Car Touch Screens.

In short, current (developed at 1990s) recommendations for interaction limiting are:

  • 10 touches
  • 20 seconds eyes off the road

Proposed recommendations are:

  • 2 seconds for simple tasks
  • 12 seconds for complex tasks
  • 5 touches
  • limiting features while driving
  • Looks like a bit of bad design. On a TomTom, 90% of the tasks listed here are accessed via a single Settings button, and thereby inaccessible while driving. Ford seems to have those options scattered, given that they're individually disabled.
    – MSalters
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 8:56
  • at 70mph you cover 600m in 20 seconds ... at 30mph you cover 260m in 20 seconds, that's a lot of distance to cover without seeing if you are going to hit something! i don't think I take my eyes off the road for more than a second, so, I think that recommendation is crazy :-)
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 21:26

The question is ignoring about 20 years of research.

Take for instance the most commonly used option on a TomTom: navigate home. This is often used in contexts where the driver is unfamiliar. It takes three taps: top-left, top-left, top-left. This is no coincidence.

Another option that was commonly used in TomTom PNDs was volume control. It has been replaced by automatic volume control, making manual operation while driving unnecessary.

  • part of the reason for asking the question is to have someone answer from a position of knowledge that includes that research and for the next person to find that knowledge quickly
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 21:27

To answer this specfically for SatNavs:

There are operations which would require more mental processing / eyes off the road time - such as inputting a postcode / zip code. So maybe these should lockout if the vehicle is moving *

Other functions, such as adjusting volume level would need to stay active as being able to disable the sound would reduce driver stress in difficult driving conditions.

It's worth noting that a lot of the existing internal controls on a car (such as heater or radio controls) also require users to take their eyes off the road to operate.

(* It would be possible to have an override button on say the rear of a unit for passenger use which would only be accessible if the satnav was physically removed from its windscreen holder)


In Waze, a popular satnav app, when you try to type the keyboard while the car is moving, it pops up a blocking message. However, one of the options in this dialog is stating you are the passenger, which enables you to type again. It's quite easy for drivers to tell the app they are the passenger, but at least it puts some awareness and responsibility on the side of the user. Bottom line, it uses this extra hassle to warn you before you do something stupid, which you might call more difficult, but it doesn't cut functionality altogether.

  • I'd wonder whether giving the driver 'another distraction' to deal with is actually good design ( or whether its got more to do with the company covering itself for legal responsibility)
    – PhillipW
    Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 20:38
  • I tend to think of it more of educating the user from doing the same thing next time. I hope most drivers would eventually abstain from even trying to type.
    – Dvir Adler
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 6:59
  • Well there's a £60 fine for a driver using a (non hands free) mobile phone in a car in the UK. But huge numbers of people still do it. So there's often a gap between what people are supposed to do - and what they actually choose to do.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 8:25
  • Indeed there is. The fine is no effective because it's rare. You just know the odds of you being caught are very low.
    – Dvir Adler
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 7:47

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