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This article was published on February 4, 2021


Wait, what!? Tesla’s dangerous butterfly steering wheel is actually legal in the UK

Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe

Wait, what!? Tesla’s dangerous butterfly steering wheel is actually legal in the UK
Matthew Beedham
Story by

Matthew Beedham

Editor, SHIFT by TNW

Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls. Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls.

Last week, Tesla unveiled images and stats for its 2021 Model S refresh. Even though it was likely keen to wow people with the powerful Plaid drivetrain, it was the damn butterfly steering wheel that caught everyone’s eye.

Some loved it, some hated, but almost all of us had no idea whether it was even legal.

Based on information we uncovered at SHIFT, we resolved that it probably wouldn’t make it into production. All publicly available regulations suggested that steering wheels have to be round and complete to be legal in the US.

However, Road and Track contacted the National Highway Transport Safety Administration, which, with a bemused look on its face, declared that it didn’t actually know if the “yoke steerer” is legal or not.

tesla, steering wheel, butterfly
Credit: Tesla
The refreshed Tesla Model S has a butterfly steering wheel, which is probably illegal.

Now, on the other side of the pond, The Sunday Times Driving, has tried to get an answer to the situation, and it seems that Tesla’s divisive butterfly wheel might actually be allowed.

[Read: How much does it cost to buy, own, and run an EV? It’s not as much as you think]

After being thrown from pillar to post, the newspaper got an answer from the UK’s Department for Transport, the agency that oversees most other road and traffic safety bodies.

According to the DfT, “The regulations relating to steering equipment (UN-ECE Regulation 79) does not stipulate any shape or size of the steering wheel.” That’s it, that’s all the DfT told The Sunday Times.

This is quite a different tune to US regulations. Under this guidance cars in the UK could use joysticks, game controllers, or literally anything else to control the direction of the vehicle. And we know that’s a bad idea.

I really hope this isn’t the last we hear about Tesla’s butterfly “yoke” steering not-a-wheel. Sure it might conjure memories of Kitt from Knight Rider, but I’ll just let Tim Stevens from Road Show tell you why it’s a terrible idea.

Honestly, I hope it doesn’t make it into production for everyone’s safety.


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