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Night Drivers Need This Button

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It seems that the older I get, the more sensitive I am to driving at night, whether its lights on the roads or the light coming from test cars’ multimedia systems. And I’m not alone.

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Most adults have trouble adjusting to bright lights as they age. “The pupil shrinks from a diameter of about five millimeters when we’re young adults to about three millimeters in old age,” according to an article on night vision in Harvard Health Publications. “A smaller pupil means less lights can enter the eye … and [is] part of the reason older eyes have a harder time adjusting to changes in light — going from darkness into bright light and vice versa.”

Pair this phenomenon with the increasing size of electronic screens in cars and it’s a recipe for difficulty driving at night. Chrysler’s Uconnect system features an 8.4-inch screen; the new Volvo XC90’s touch-screen is iPad sized and inspired, and the Tesla Model S features a mac-daddy 17-inch screen. These screens emit a continuous glow, and it can be difficult to see after looking at a tablet-sized glowing screen and then back to the dark road ahead while driving at night. Want to turn the glow down while its in night mode or even turn it off? With many systems, you’ll have to stare directly into the glowing embers, so to speak, long enough to toggle through several menu screens to turn off the screen.

Some automakers, however, have just a single off button. I was thrilled to find the Screen Off button — one of only a few tactile controls — in the Chrysler 200. Rather than harming my night vision to turn off the screen, I could simply feel for this button and turn the screen to black while driving at night. This feature isn’t the norm, however. While most Hondas and Nissans equipped with touch-screen systems have one like Chrysler’s, many automakers don’t go this route with their tech-laden models. Some Audis let you completely retract the multimedia screen completely.

According to a Chrysler representative, “Chrysler Group designers originally placed the [screen off] function within a Uconnect menu, treating it as a sub-feature. Users quickly noted that the function is greatly appreciated, given the massive 8.4-inch screen size. After hearing how passionate users were about the Screen Off function, it was clear it deserved a more accessible location. The decision was made to add a dedicated Screen Off control on the center stack.”

While I’m appreciative of the increasing size of multimedia screens (if for no other reason than the large backup camera image they produce), I hope other manufacturers follow suit and make their screens just as easy to turn off. composite by Paul Dolan

Photo of Kristin Varela
Former Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin Varela

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