Tesla’s new rectangular steering wheel has been raising eyebrows since it was revealed this week, and not just among admirers and critics.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has started to take a look at the unusual control interface, Motor1 first reported.
"At this time, NHTSA cannot determine if the steering wheel meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. We will be reaching out to the automaker for more information," the agency said in a statement confirmed to Fox News Autos.
Along with its airplane yoke-style shape, the wheel doesn’t have any control stalks behind it.
Only a few photos have been revealed, which appear to show touchpad thumb controls on the left wheel spoke for the turn signals and more for the windshield wiper and horn on the right.
Ferrari currently employs large wheel-mounted buttons to operate the turn signals, but Tesla’s take is unique.
"Tesla’s history makes it no surprise when they announce new safety features as if they were easily reversible updates to a cell phone instead of controls to a multi-ton vehicle," said Jason Levine, Executive Director 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’s what Tesla has done here."
The Tesla Model 3 and Y use a conventional steering wheel with stalks, but the controls for their windshield wipers are split between a button on the left stalk that provides a single wipe or cleaning spray and wipe when it is held down, while the touchscreen display is used to turn them on fully and adjust their speed. There’s also a rain-sensing automatic function available which is listed a beta feature in development.
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Tesla also provides voice commands for many systems and the new wheel design could be a reflection of that, along with the company’s promise of providing full autonomous driving capability by the end of 2021.
NHTSA recently updated its regulations to allow autonomous cars to be built without any steering wheel or pedals, but only if they are primarily designed to be operated without a human driver.
The new wheel is equipped in the updated Model S and Mode X, which have just entered production, while prototypes for the upcoming Cybertruck and Roadster featured a similar design.
Elon Musk has not publically commented on the wheel.