March 17, 2021 By Gerard Jude Castillo

Are steering wheel controls a safety feature?

As drivers, we’re always told to keep our hands on the steering wheel and our eyes on the road. But what if we want to do things like choose a music track? While this ideally is not advisable as it can distract you from the task at hand, this is where steering wheel controls come in.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, steering wheel controls are first and foremost a safety feature. While marketing hacks have made these buttons and switches mounted on the spokes of today’s modern steering wheels to look like convenience features that look oh-so-cool, their purpose is to help you perform certain tasks while keeping your hands on the tiller and your eyes on the road ahead.

Choosing music tracks, adjusting audio volume, even answering a call can all be done by simply pressing a switch on the steering wheel. Carmakers like Ferrari, for instance, has its Manettino dial that essentially lets drivers tinker with suspension settings, traction control, and electronic differentials, among others—all from the tiller.

Then you’ve also got steering wheel-mounted paddles. With automatic transmissions becoming more popular compared to manual gearboxes, “changing gears” can now be by flicking a paddle behind the wheel. This not only makes it safer but it makes you look like a Formula 1 driver swapping cogs.

All this was inspired by Formula 1 technology that puts all the controls right at the driver’s fingertips, literally. Take a quick look at a Formula 1 car’s steering wheel and you will see a myriad of buttons and switches that control everything. Again, all in the name of safety.

So the next time you change radio stations, remember to do so using the controls on your car’s tiller. It’s there for your safety.

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