I’ll admit, a part of me feels a bit of unwholesome satisfaction to hear that a German judge ruled that the Tesla Model 3's windshield wiper controls are kinda shitty. That’s because I said as much back in 2017 but had to back off after Tesla pitched a huge fit and pointed out some mitigating details. Now, I’m feeling more emboldened on my stand that Those Wiper Controls Kinda Suck, because now a German judge has my back.
This whole thing started back in the middle of March (not related to Middlemarch, I checked) when a German Model 3 driver wrecked his car into an embankment while trying to adjust the wiper speed. That driver had his license suspended for a month, but decided to fight the decision by taking the case to one of Germany’s Higher Regional Courts known as OLG, because of funny German words.
The driver was originally cited under Section 23 (1)of the Road Traffic Regulations that refer to “improper use of an electronic device,” which, in this case, was the Model 3's center-mounted LCD touch display, which contains the controls for wiper speed. The wipers can come on via a stalk or automatically (sensed via cameras used for autopilot) but if you yourself want to adjust the speed, you have to dive into the touch screen.
I think the driver was correct to contest this, as it’s not like he was screwing around with the stereo balance or texting or something; he was accessing a very normal and common car control that is usually not on a touch screen.
Here’s what the judge had to say about it:
“The touchscreen permanently installed in the vehicle of the Tesla brand is an electronic device within the meaning of Section 23 (1a) sentence 1 and 2 StVO, the operation of which the motor vehicle driver is only permitted under the conditions of this regulation. It does not matter which purpose the driver pursues with the operation, and the setting of the functions required to operate the motor vehicle via the touchscreen (here: setting the wiper interval of the windshield wiper) is therefore only permitted if this is done with a short, Street, traffic, visibility and weather conditions adapted to the view of the screen while at the same time looking away from the traffic is connected.”
If we cut through the artifacts of the machine translation, we find that the judge is effectively saying that the wiper speed controls on the Model 3 require the driver to move focus from the windshield and the task of driving and to the controls on the screen, which is really only permitted in ideal conditions.
Those conditions are very likely not going to be the conditions that actually require you to adjust the speed settings of your wipers, which is why this is actually a pretty big issue.
If you look around, you can see that a lot of Model 3 owners also find the wiper controls inadequate, with people on forums complaining about slow wiper response, the inaccuracy of the voice commands to control wipers, and how the automatic wipers are ineffective in areas with actually heavy rains.
Now, the Model 3 does have a stalk to turn the wipers on or off, but if you want to control the speed, you need to use the touchscreen.
Back in 2017 when I suggested this was a bad idea, I neglected to reach out to Tesla for a statement (back when they did give statements to journalists) and as a result Tesla was so pissed about the article they threatened to take away the loaner we were using to shoot an episode of Car vs America (remember that?) which made then-editor-in-chief Patrick George’s life very difficult, and he got so mad at me he kicked me out of our Slack room, the online equivalent of being sent to your room to think about what you did.
Tesla eventually relented and I issued some corrections to the story about the wiper operation, but now I’m thinking I was generally right all along.
You should not have to look at a damn center-mounted touchscreen button to change your wiper speed—wiper controls belong on a stalk where you can adjust them mindlessly with your fingers as you keep your attention out the windshield and on driving, in what are undoubtedly more hazardous than normal conditions.
The judge is right, and our hapless German Model 3 driver proved it: this is a shitty way to control wipers.
I reached out to Tesla this time for a statement or explanation or anything, but they never get back to us anymore.
If, somehow, they do, I’ll update this. In the meantime, I’m just going to feel a little bit smugly justified here, at least for a while.