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US driver safety group sues Ford over touch-screen systems

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Ford Motor has been hit with a proposed class action claiming it neglected to fix defects in vehicle touch-screen control systems that create safety hazards for drivers.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by the Center for Defensive Driving, a non-profit driver safety group. The plaintiffs are bringing the lawsuit on behalf of customers who purchased or leased Ford vehicles equipped with a MyFord Touch system, as well as variations like MyLincoln Touch and MyMercury Touch.

According to the lawsuit, customers have complained that the system freezes up, malfunctions, blacks out and fails to connect with mobile devices. The complaint said system flaws have created "significant safety risks" for drivers, diverting their attention from the road when the product malfunctions and failing to contact 911 during emergencies as designed.

(Read more: Ford Cuts Price of 2014 Electric Focus by 10 Percent)

Ford launched MyFord Touch in vehicles in 2010. The system was designed to centralize audio, navigation, climate, mobile-device, entertainment and safety controls through LCD interfaces powered by Microsoft's Sync operating system. The MyFord Touch system can be controlled via a touch-screen panel, voice commands or by buttons on the steering wheel.

Since its launch, however, MyFord Touch and other so-called infotainment systems in Ford vehicles have been an "unmitigated disaster," plaintiffs said in the lawsuit.

A representative for Ford declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, reported 400 problems with its MyFord Touch system for every 1,000 vehicles in November 2012. The company previously said it aims to lower that number to 360 by August.

Automakers have struggled to create easy-to-use and effective touch-screen systems that integrate entertainment and navigation systems.

Ford has faced public criticism over its systems from some customers. At least two websites, including syncsucks.com, have been set up to chronicle customers' problems with the systems, the complaint said. Customers also have lodged complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the system, according to the lawsuit.

(Read more: Ford, Amazon, Subway and History Channel Generate Most Buzz)

"In theory, MyFord Touch is a brilliant idea and worth the premium that Ford charged its customers for the system," plaintiffs' lawyer Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro said in a statement. "In reality, the system is fundamentally flawed, failing to reliably provide functionality, amounting to an inconvenience at best, and a serious safety issue at worst."

Ford said in a June press release that Sync and MyFord Touch were sold on nearly 80 percent of 2013 Ford vehicles, up from 68 percent in 2012.

Ford has issued several updates to address issues with the system, but the complaint said that the updates failed to address plaintiffs' problems.

The company said in June that it is also planning to add buttons and knobs to MyFord Touch systems in future vehicles.

Plaintiffs are seeking a court order compelling Ford to recall or replace the systems, as well as damages.

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