Rental Car Conventions

For the past three months, I've been renting a car once a week to relieve the stress on my Acura for my bi-weekly commute to Springfield. Each week, I seem to get a new car. I've probably driven half a dozen different models of vehicle, each with a unique set of controls.

Apparently, there aren't many conventions for designing an automobile cockpit. As I examined the different interfaces, I could only find three controls that remained essentially the same. The first two were the gas and brake pedals. While they sometimes differ superficially in appearance from car to car, their function and placement remain fixed. It's probably mandated by law since it's such an important part of the driving experience.

The other control surprised me. It's the turn signal. No matter the vehicle, the turn signal is always on the left, behind the steering wheel. It's always a stick, never a knob or a button. It's always mapped so that it moves down for left and up for right. That consistency is perplexing.

The turn signal isn't critical to moving a vehicle from point A to point B (some people go their entire lives without using a turn signal). It's hard to believe that the design should be mandated for so insignificant a control. Windshield wipers, conversely, are much more critical in low visibility, and sometimes are necessary at a moment's notice. Yet their controls differ wildly in position and in form from vehicle to vehicle.

Maybe the turn signal just happens to be located in the perfect spot. Anyone know of examples where the turn signal works differently? I'd be interested in hearing about it.

Update: PDF of a similar anaysis of automobile design. Also, a history of automobile design.

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