Tesla’s bold “yoke” steering system is legal on UK roads, confirms regulators

(Credit: Tesla)

When Tesla launched the new Model S and Model X last week, critics immediately pounced on the vehicles’ uniquely-shaped “yoke” steering system. If recent comments from UK regulators are any indication, however, it appears that Tesla’s yoke steering for the refreshed flagship vehicles will find a welcome home on Britain’s roads. 

Vehicles on UK roads are governed by several regulatory bodies. In a recent report, The Sunday Times opted to get confirmation from the appropriate agency to see if Tesla’s steering yoke would be approved for public use or not. The publication reached out to the Driver and Vehicle Safety Agency (DVSA), which referred it to the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA). The VCA then passed the Times to the Department for Transport (DfT). 

The UK Department for Transport oversees all agencies and policy decisions that involve roads, vehicles, and road safety. Following an inquiry, the publication received a short response, and it was quite positive for the US-based electric car maker: “The regulations relating to steering equipment (UN-ECE Regulation 79) does not stipulate any shape or size of the steering wheel,” the DfT wrote. 

The UK body’s response echoes the stance of The Netherlands’ Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer (RDW), which supervises vehicle and driving licensing, registration, and control in the country. In a recent statement to a local news agency, the RDW confirmed that Tesla’s uniquely-shaped steering system for the Model S and Model X are completely legal. The agency even cited the same UN-ECE Regulation 79 to highlight its point. 

The DfT guidance on MOT inspections references the testing of various steering systems, including yokes and handlebars. Based on the agency’s guidelines, a steering system could pass as long as there isn’t excessive play, wear, or damage the would render a vehicle dangerous. Designs that could result in accidents would also trigger a recall. In short, as long as Tesla can demonstrate that the new Model S and Model X’s steering yoke is safe, it would be completely legal for use on UK roads. 

However, the DfT did note that there is something on Tesla’s new flagship cars that warrant concern. Tesla notes in its official webpage that the Model S and Model X features wireless controller compatibility that allows gaming from any seat in the vehicle. According to the DfT, UK law indicates that features like video games must not be available to front-seat passengers when the car is in motion. If Tesla allows Arcade games to be displayed on the Model S and Model X refresh’s main display while the vehicles are moving, the company could run afoul of regulators, even if the front passenger is the one playing games, not the driver. 

“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,” a DfT spokesperson said.

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Maria Merano: Veteran writer and editor, who believes harmony between tech and nature is achievable. We just need to learn to compromise.
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