Tesla’s new rectangular steering wheel has raised eyebrows since it was unveiled this week, and not just among admirers and critics.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun looking at the unusual control interface, Motor1 reported first.
“Currently, NHTSA cannot determine if the steering wheel meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. We will reach out to the automaker for more information,” the agency said in a statement confirmed to Fox News Autos.
Together with the aircraft’s okform, the wheel has no control stalks behind it.
Only a few pictures have been revealed, which seem to show the touchpad thumb controls on the left wheel that spoke for turn signals and more for the windshield wiper and horn on the right.
Ferrari currently uses large wheel-mounted buttons to control turn signals, but Tesla’s grip is unique.
“Tesla’s history comes as no surprise when they announce new safety features as if they were easily reversible updates of a mobile phone instead of controls for a multitone vehicle,” said Jason Levine, CEO of the Center for Auto Safety.
“While it may be possible to safely design a new steering wheel, we look forward to hearing the conclusion of NHTSA’s inquiry as to whether that is what Tesla has done here.”
Tesla Model 3 and Y use a conventional steering wheel with stems, but the controls for the windshield wipers are divided between a button on the left stalk that provides a single drying or cleaning spray and dries when held down, while the touch screen displays are used to turn them on completely and adjust the speed. There is also a rain detection automatic feature that is listed as a beta feature under development.
Tesla also provides voice commands for many systems and the new wheel design may be a reflection of that, along with the company’s promise to provide full autonomous driving capability by the end of 2021.
NHTSA recently updated its rules to allow autonomous cars to be built without a steering wheel or pedals, but only if they are primarily designed for use without a human driver.
The new wheel is equipped with the updated Model S and Mode X, which have just been taken into production, while prototypes for the upcoming Cybertruck and Roadster have a similar design.
Elon Musk has not publicly commented on the steering wheel.
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