New driving technology could see motorists forced to have touchscreens on steering wheels

Steering wheel on road

Changes to steering wheels could see drivers use touchscreens

Hemma Visavadia

By Hemma Visavadia

Published: 11/06/2024

- 15:20

Major steering wheel changes could be made in the coming years

Drivers are set to benefit from groundbreaking safety technology which has changed the way steering wheels will be rolled out in the future.

The technological advancements could soon see drivers use touchscreen steering wheels and feature human machine interfaces.

The development comes as car manufacturers try to help keep up with modern car interiors, with ZF Lifetec developing the technology, in addition to a new airbag system that fits inside steering wheels.

The company identified a flaw with the way airbags are currently deployed in vehicles, primarily coming from the central part of the wheel.

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airbag in steering wheel

The company identified a flaw in how airbags are deployed


Through the new design, the airbag would be deployed from the top of the steering wheel, via the upper rim.

Harald Lutz, head of development at ZF Lifetec, explained that the new concept enables design freedom for steering wheels without “compromising safety”.

As car makers continue to make improvements to the interior of vehicles, ZF Lifetec stated that the way steering wheels sit within the vehicle could also change.

The company estimated that steering wheels' “user-friendliness” will be key in any future steering wheel designs.

ZF Lifetec said it is also working on a hybrid solution with rotary switches, as well as force-sensitive and tactile surfaces integrated into the steering wheel, similar to an F1 racecar.

Meanwhile, hands-on detection and a capacitive sensor under the leather surfaces of the steering wheel can recognise how much grip the driver is applying to the wheel.

While there is no official date as to when drivers can expect the groundbreaking technology to roll out, the company did say it has created a new generation of steering wheels to “expand the design possibilities of future-oriented interior concepts”.

Last year one of the world’s largest car manufacturers was forced to recall more than one million vehicles in response to a defect that could cause airbags not to deploy.

Toyota Motor had to call back 1.12 million vehicles worldwide because a short circuit in a sensor could cause airbags not to deploy as designed.

This had an impact on models including the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Lexus ES250, ES300H, ES350, RX350 Highlander and Sienna Hybrid.

The potential rise in touchscreens comes despite reports by Euro NCAP, the automotive safety industry body which stated that from 2026, new guidance will be introduced to change key dashboard touchscreen functions in vehicles to physical switches instead.

The move follows the requirements of car manufacturers selling in Europe needing to have physical buttons for certain actions to be granted the highest safety ratings.


Production on airbag tech

The first airbags to appear in cars arrived in the 1950s


From January 2026, indicators, hazard warning lights, windscreen wipers, horns, and any other key safety features on the dashboard will have to be controlled by physical switches, although there is no indication steering wheels will also need to meet the criteria.

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