Earlier this year, the new Tesla Model S was revealed, and unless you’re a huge Tesla fanboy, its standardised use of a yoke-style steering wheel was almost universally panned as a potential safety risk.
For context, yoke steering wheels get their name from where these were originally used – aircraft. A plane’s yoke refers to its control column that it uses for piloting. You may have seen these yoke wheels before on F1 cars, but Tesla sure made heads turn when they launched the new Model S earlier this year as they’ve fitted it with a yoke steering wheel.
While these yoke-style steering wheels may look super cool in Cyberpunk 2077 or in F1 cars, they’re almost always never used in consumer vehicles, and for good reason too. If you’ve ever watched an F1 car from the cockpit camera, you’d notice that they don’t have to turn the steering wheel the same amount as we do in our cars. Most of the time they have just over 180° of rotation on each side, as shown here:
A consumer car meanwhile – like the Tesla Model S – has the more common 900°, which means that having that yoke-style steering wheel makes it super awkward to drive. You’re going to have to make multiple full rotation at tight turns and U-turns, but with just two points of contact on a yoke wheel, making a full 900° turn sounds more like a chore than a good driving experience. More importantly, it also doesn’t look very safe:
This is on top of all the other potentially unsafe design decisions made by Tesla. For starters, you can see in the video the driver accidentally triggering the horn at one point. It also removed the control stalk for your turn signals, instead needing the driver to hit signal buttons for left and right, both of which are now inexplicably on the left of the steering wheel.
There’s even been suggestions for people to use an addon accessory to make the Tesla Model S’s steering wheel more wheel-like.
That being said, the driver in that video, Omar, did step forward and told Jalopnik what was going on in the video. He claims that it was only his second time driving the car, thus his awkwardness with the wheel. The video was originally meant for a Tesla forum thread, but eventually found itself everywhere else online. The driver also added:
“The yoke has a learning curve, but it is not insurmountable. I think if folks understand that, then they can make informed decisions and know what to expect.
For me, I have about 300 miles in the car and I have finally stopped reaching for a non-existent turn signal stalk, and for the last day or two, stopped thinking about the yoke at all and just gone back to steering and enjoying the car—not perfect muscle memory yet, but also not having to constantly think about where my hands are and what they should be doing,” – Omar to Jalopnik
Take what you will from that, but there’s a reason that yoke-wheels haven’t seen wide adoption despite being around for decades. Perhaps reinventing the steering wheel wasn’t that good of an idea after all.