Steering wheels aren’t just for steering the vehicle anymore. There are many things controlled by switches on the steering wheel these days. The number of systems controlled on the steering wheel is growing as quickly as the evolution of technology, which is fast these days.
When I started driving the only other function of the steering wheel was the horn, and some cars had the horn button on the dash not in the wheel. As technology developed cruise control was added. Then they added radio volume, then you had the ability to change the radio station. Now you can do many things with controls on the face and on the back side of the steering wheel.
The steering wheel pictured is the wheel in the #18 Sealmaster Indy car. I was amazed that the car has no gauges, all monitoring of the cars functions is done on the wheel. The transmission is shifted using buttons on the wheel. The car will not even start if the wheel is not on the steering shaft. The wheel is removable, allowing the driver more room to get into and out of the seat, which is molded to fit that driver, using a quick release collar.
In the Indy car, the driver can change fuel mapping options while driving at well over 100 mph, and still maneuver thru traffic. Granted they are on a closed course and all traffic is going the same direction as they are, but still they are making significant changes while driving at those speeds. There are no wires connecting the wheel to the car, so all communication is done wirelessly, amazing. There is a price to pay for that kind of technology, you could buy a very nice car for what the race teams pay for a steering wheel, and they have a spare, it would be a bummer to be put out of a race because of a steering wheel switch failure.
I wanted to show this steering wheel because automobiles are right behind race cars and trucks are behind autos. The technology is out there to make this happen now, race cars have proven it works and is reliable, but it is expensive. I can see more and more steering wheel controls coming to the trucking industry as time moves forward. I believe there could be a safety factor improvement using wheel-controlled functions, no looking for switches.
I believe there should be more training before getting into a new truck with these new technologies as there is a bit of a learning curve. All too often the driver is handed a set of keys and told where to pick up his first load. Having never been in a truck with the technology of today, the driver may have to sit for a while to learn where to begin. With the desire to get to earning, the learning process may take place as the truck is rolling, not all that safe.
Once you learn where the switches are it becomes second nature to use them without taking your eyes off the road. Changing radio stations and volume, answering the phone, blinking headlamps or marker lamps, cruise control settings, and still, the horn, are some of the systems controlled on the steering wheel now. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next as technology moves our direction.