Tesla’s new steering wheel gets first green light

Tesla’s unusual steering control will pass through safety regulations in the UK, hinting at wider approval.

Tesla recently launched updated versions of the Model S saloon and Model X SUV, both of which feature U-shaped flight yokes in place of conventional steering wheels.

When Tesla released the first images of the cars’ interiors, many questioned the legality of the firm’s unusual new steering wheel. However, the Department for Transport in the UK has since declared the design legal.

The Sunday Times contacted DfT for an official response – and the department provided a single line statement which read: “The regulations relating to steering equipment (UN-ECE Regulation 79) does not stipulate any shape or size of the steering wheel.”

UK regulations mean that a car’s steering equipment could be anything – a wheel, a joystick, a handlebar or Tesla’s unusual new flight yoke – and still remain legal, providing the system can be used to maintain control of the vehicle and meet standards for excessive play or movement.

Despite this legislative triumph for Tesla, the company could soon fall foul of a different road traffic law which prevents the driver from viewing media devices while the car is in motion.

When Tesla unveiled the updated Model S and Model X, the brand also announced a new feature for their infotainment systems called the “Tesla Arcade.” The company says its latest touchscreen has enough processing power to run modern video games – and that “wireless controller compatibility allows gaming from any seat.”

A DfT spokesperson also told The Sunday Times: “By law, drivers can only use screens when viewing driving information related to the state of the vehicle or its equipment, when navigation is displayed, or when assisting in viewing the road around the vehicle. Under the Road Vehicles (Constriction and Use) regulations, screens used for anything else should not be visible to the driver while the vehicle is being driven.”

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That means that, even if it’s the front passenger who’s playing the video game, it would be illegal while the car was in motion as the screen is within the driver’s eyeline. However, rear seat passengers would legally be allowed to use the extra screen on the rear of the centre console for gaming – even twhen the car was moving.

It’s worth noting that the infotainment systems on current Tesla models can be used to watch TV and online streaming services – but the system becomes unavailable when the cars are in motion. Tesla will likely introduce a similar system for video game access.

Luke Wilkinson

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