Sunday, October 4, 2009

Do we see a decrease in commonality in car control?

You may wonder what the aircraft picture to the left has to do with this car centric blog. Well, here's the point. When you are a civil aircraft pilot at an airline you are typically certified for one aircraft type, for example the B747 (Jumbo Jet). As knowing your aircraft is crucial for safety, the same pilot cannot fly a B747 on one day and let's say a B737 the next day. Because the pilot training and certification process is expensive and the aircraft type orientation reduces flexibility, aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus started to build "commonality" into their aircraft and created groups of aircraft where the same certification applies. So, the same pilot now can fly the Airbus A319, 320 and 321 without being retrained. And even the large A380 follows the same control principles and retraining can be substantially reduced. Aircraft type certification is supposed to make flying more safe because if there's an incident then the pilot knows exactly what to do and doesn't have to think about how a certain procedure works in the specific airplane he is currently steering.
Over 100 years of car manufacturing the commonality between different cars has greatly increased. While some cars had the throttle pedal in the middle in the past, some on the right, today you can take it for granted that the throttle pedal sits on the right, the brake pedal in the middle and the clutch pedal, if there's one, on the left. That's good, as it makes traffic a lot safer. Few people also may remember that Peugeots had the indicator switch on the right side of the steering wheel (LHD car) in the 70ies (and 80ies?) while most other cars had it on the left side. The knob to turn on the lights usually is on the left side of the steering wheel (LHD) for most cars and heating and air control sits in the center console. And the handbrake sits in the middle of the car in the center console usually. At least that was the case in the 80ies and 90ies. There were some exceptions of course, as for example the Porsche had the ignition key on the left side of the steering wheel (LHD) and Saab had it in the center console behind the gear lever. Mercedes didn't use a "handbrake" but rather a foot operated version. But mostly you wouldn't have to read a manual to operate somebody else's car. Now, lately things have changed. Electronic handbrakes, starter buttons and controls in the steering wheel have reduced commonality between different car makes in my eyes. Some of these differences do not affect safety, but some do. It's a step into the wrong direction. Usability has something to do with learning transfer. The smaller the difference to what people are used to the better the usability.

1 comment:

John L said...

I always seem to fumble around looking for light switches in other people's cars. Maybe I'm just dopey.