Why Are Steering Wheels Not Round? [Explained]

The design of your steering wheel could influence how easy your car is to drive and also how well you’re able to maintain control when driving at speed

Why are they not round?

A round structure would certainly be one possible solution for this interaction between the hands and the handlebar. So, why steering wheels are not round? The simple answer is it turns out that it does not offer optimal ergonomic conditions.

Three things must be taken into account: Comfort, Driving stability & Efficiency (speed/effort).

First, we’ll take a look at each of these factors:

Comfort -Both hands gripping the steering wheel equally comfortable? Or do we feel more comfortable when using one hand only on top and the other below?

Look at it from above and you can see that this design allows for a more comfortable grip with one hand on the upper part and another on the lower side of the instrument.

Another advantage of flat steering wheels is that they allow for easy access to the ignition keyhole which, in turn, can be right under them and thus easily accessible when driving

Driving stability – A round steering wheel easily becomes a natural centrifuge in case of sudden directional change or panic braking which results in strong centrifugal pulling forces at your hands. This problem does not exist with a non-circular steering wheel which tends to fall back into its original position automatically.

Efficiency – When taking corners, we need to push and pull the steering wheel leftwards and rightwards respectively. As already mentioned before, such movements require much less effort with a flat steering wheel than with a round one. This is due to the fact that we move the palms of our hands outwards and inwards respectively which means less muscle activity compared to an inward and outward pulling movement required when holding a round steering wheel.

Why are steering wheels rectangular?

There are several reasons that steer wheels are typically rectangular, and they all depend on the different types of vehicles they’re used in.

For F1 race cars, the shape is actually justified. As a driver races, his or her legs need to fit around the wheel and pedals. On top of that, a full turn of the wheel can be made in less than a quarter rotation from lock-to-lock depending on where the car’s limits are set.