Trying to set the wipers to the right speed is one Tesla driver became doomed in March of last year. Because the interval can only be adjusted via a submenu on the central touchscreen. When typing, however, the driver came off the main road and hit several trees.
The damage did not result from the judgment. What is clear, however, is that he has to pay a fine of 200 euros and is not allowed to drive a car for a month – the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court confirmed this judgment of the Karlsruhe District Court (Az. 1 Rb 36 Ss 832/19). His assessment that the driver illegally used an electronic device is also correct. Touchscreens are also expressly mentioned in the so-called mobile phone paragraph in the road traffic regulations.
Adjusting a safety-relevant part while driving is not prohibited, but it depends on how the driver does it. “The law expressly says that you shouldn’t take your eyes off the road for too long, and that’s exactly what happened here,” explains Christian Janeczek, member of the Traffic Law Committee of the German Lawyers’ Association.
Operation via the display requires too much attention
Using the touchscreen while driving is generally permitted – provided that the necessary brief look at traffic and weather is appropriate. “How long you can look at the display as a driver depends on the circumstances,” explains lawyer Janeczek. “For example, you can look at the display longer at the traffic lights, but not on the freeway.”
However, in the opinion of the court, selecting the correct wiping speed via a submenu requires too much attention. This is especially true in comparison to conventional fittings with levers and switches.
The decision is likely to have consequences. For the first time, the operation of an exclusive vehicle function was considered a violation if it was done via a touchscreen and required a longer look, the ADAC said on request.
Setting the air conditioner as an offense
The judgment has a signal effect, explains traffic lawyer Janeczek. Although the judgment is not binding for local courts that are not subordinate to the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court, according to the lawyer, “other judges will most likely follow the judgment”. At the same time, a higher regional court is the supreme authority in the prosecution of administrative offenses. “Only if another higher regional court wants to deviate from this judgment must the Federal Court of Justice make a binding decision,” explains Janeczek.
However, the judgment not only has consequences for Tesla drivers, but also for customers of other manufacturers, in whose cars, for example, the air conditioning can only be set via the touchscreen. According to the ADAC, it cannot be ruled out that this will also be assessed as an administrative offense in the future. Lawyer Janeczek also shares this point of view. “Drivers should therefore generally not look at the display while driving and click through menus there,” warns the lawyer.
Traffic lawyer questions approval
Traffic lawyer Janeczek also sees the industry as having an obligation, because manufacturers follow suit Tesla’s interior concept and block bigger screens in their vehicles, which are used to control numerous functions. Dispensing with levers and switches ensures that the dashboard is tidy, but it sometimes makes some simple operations unnecessarily complicated, as the Karlsruhe judgment shows. “Functions such as the windshield wipers must be able to be switched on spontaneously and intuitively and precisely adjusted while driving,” says lawyer Janeczek.
The ADAC sees things similarly. The automobile club, for example, demands that all functions that are important for safety, such as lights, indicators, windshield wipers and mirror inclination, can be operated without having to take your eyes off the traffic.
Janeczek suspects that the complicated setting of the wipe interval using a touchscreen could be a problem for the Californian manufacturer. According to the lawyer, he cannot understand why there is no classic lever: “Design must not come before function here.” If the setting of the windshield wipers in the Tesla also works via voice control, that would be a replacement solution for the missing lever. “Otherwise the question arises for me,” says Janeczek, “whether such a vehicle should be registered at all and whether it can be driven in the rain”.
However, the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt referred in this question to the Dutch authorities who had granted the vehicle type approval. An inquiry to the Dutch authorities initially remained unanswered, and Tesla also did not comment on the judgment on request.