The controversial new steering wheel design will be offered as an option on the recently unveiled facelift Model S and Model X alongside a conventional round wheel. At the time of the unveil, many questioned the legality of such a design outside of Tesla’s US home market.
However, after the Sunday Times spoke to the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) and the Department for Transport (DfT), the latter pointed to the Economic Commission For Europe of the United Nations (UN/ECE) Regulation 79.
This regulation exists to “establish uniform provisions for the layout and performance of steering systems fitted to vehicles used on the road”. It was originally put into place to regulate now-common ‘drive-by-wire’ steering systems, in which there's no mechanical link to the car's wheels. However, the regulation doesn't stipulate anywhere that a steering device must be a specific size or shape.
In fact, the UK government’s MOT inspection manual lists - in section 2.2.2 - advice for testing a “steering column or forks and yokes” in cars and passenger vehicles. The only requirement is that whatever form of steering control must be sturdily attached and have minimal play.
Despite this good news for Tesla, the EV manufacturer will likely find it difficult passing another new feature - the Tesla Arcade built-in games console - through UK regulations. This device allows use of wireless video-game controllers from any seat.
However, the DfT told the Sunday Times: “By law, drivers can only use screens when viewing driving information related to the state of the vehicle or its equipment. Screens used for anything else should not be visible to the driver while the vehicles is being driven.”
This means that even if a front passenger is playing a game, the ability for the driver to see it renders it illegal. It remains to be seen if either of these features will be offered on UK or European models when they're eventually exported.