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I can't recall the last time I "dialled" a number, so if it is, it seems like a bit of a waste of space, and using this while driving would also be dangerous.

Is that really the case?
 

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It is never advisable to use a phone when driving handsfree or not. However I have used the dial pad to call the emergency services when needed (I don't have that number pre-programmed)

It is also a legal loophole (at least in the UK) whilst it is illegal here to use a handheld mobile, it isn't illegal to push buttons that are part of your car.
 

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I can't recall the last time I "dialled" a number, so if it is, it seems like a bit of a waste of space, and using this while driving would also be dangerous.

Is that really the case?

use them to move the map when the sat nav is on.
 

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I use them for favorite radio stations. Long press of each of them memorizes current station under that number.
Also, as "Chiptivo" noticed, they are useful in the NAV mode - 2, 4, 6 and 8 can be used as "arrows" to move the map to left/right and top/bottom.
 
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