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With the over-65 population growing at a rapid rate (36.9 million in 2009 and set to hit 72.1 million by 2030), automakers are intent on making driving easier for the elderly. To that end, automotive supplier TRW is developing a folding steering wheel concept that retracts into the dashboard, allowing older drivers to get in and out with ease.

The wheel is bisected into two smaller handles that fold inward when the vehicle is shut down, mounting nearly flush with the rest of the dashboard. When the driver gets back in, the wheel extends outward to the driver's chosen position and can be set at multiple angles for different users.

Ideally, TRW's steering wheel solution would be part of a larger initiative to make driving easier for people with limited mobility, and partnered with voice commands and more legible buttons and interfaces, the wheel could be part of a elderly-focused equipment package as early as 2016. Full details in the press blast after the break.
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A Glimpse of Tomorrow's Dashboard From TRW

TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. (NYSE: TRW) ), the global leader in active and passive safety, today unveiled a folding steering wheel concept which retracts into the dashboard to improve driver comfort getting in and out of a vehicle.

Manuel Poyant, development manager, Steering Wheel Systems and Driver Airbags, said: "The automotive industry is being influenced by some key factors such as a more active older population and the growth of mega cities. As a result, vehicle manufacturers and suppliers need to find innovative solutions to improve driver accessibility and interior styling for smaller cars (A and B platform as well as electric cars).
"The foldable steering wheel concept is a prime example of technology that allows easier access for elderly people and those faced with mobility challenges."

The futuristic design of the retractable steering wheel was developed following an internal study for future steering wheel requirements. It features two retractable handles that close fully to create a smaller shape which then folds away into the dashboard - significantly improving driver comfort and accessibility. When the vehicle is started, the steering wheel deploys into the driving position which can be pre-set and saved by any driver into their chosen position.

Poyant continued: "This technology could offer tangible, practical benefits in addition to the styling freedom it provides. The key benefit is to make it much easier for elderly drivers or other drivers with reduced mobility to get in and out of the vehicle. Due to the significant growth of small city cars, this technology could open up the possibility for even smaller cabin designs.

Our customers have shown interest in the concept and the introduction of this technology could be possible within the next 5 years."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      If you can't get in and out of a car because of the steering wheel perhaps you shouldn't be driving.
      Andre Neves
      • 4 Years Ago
      How about just requiring the elderly past a certain age, retake a road test in order to keep driving instead of risking people's lives.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Andre Neves
        Great idea Andre, but not enough. It should be semi-annually after 70, and annually after 75. More important, it should involve a written test, a basic physical, and a test of reaction time. There should also be a post-accident retest if a 70+ person is at fault. I'm 67, still race cars and cycles, and have faster reactions than my teenagers and their friends, but no one should not be exempted. That will take me out one day, but better that than a fatality, or causing one. Now, how about cell phones, drinking, dwi (driving while illegal), and maybe someday a test for just plain stupid, which will take out a whole lot of people.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think retractable gas pedals would be more effective. Seems the main issue is old folks hitting the gas instead of the brake.
      • 4 Years Ago
      this seems to be the answer to the question nobody asked. if anyone has ever bothered to watch old folks get in or out of a car, they'd see they use the steering wheel as a brace, and something to hold onto. so what is the point of this?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yes! From the bowels of prejudice, discrimination and general stupidity, i.e. craig and mmm, comes the voice of reason. Apparently, the geniuses at TRW have spent a wad of cash on this ill-fated project without first observing elderly and infirm persons get out of a car - or in. The steering wheel and the door striker are their most valuable assists. I am 67 years old, and a strong supporter of more frequent, relevant testing (especially reaction testing) for elderly drivers. However, to say that all elderly drivers should be off the road is no different than racial discrimination. I have two teenagers, and meet dozens of their friends at our Friday night house parties. None of them has ever had faster reaction times than mine. I have raced cars, street and dirt bikes for 35 years. In spite of driving consistently over the speed limit, I haven't had an accident in fifty years. Yet Craig and mmm, in their infinite wisdom, don't think I should drive. What a coincidence. The scariest drivers I see, outside of drunks and texters, are the bulletproof teenagers that come and go from our house. Thanks, reattadudes, for redirecting everyone toward a reasonable, rational solution. With any luck, maybe one of these forward-thinkers at TRW will read it.
      Brian E Parker
      • 4 Years Ago
      What's Grandpa supposed to grab hold onto when he's swinging his butt from his wheelchair into the car?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Don't mean to seem like a total dick, but aren't elderly people responsible for a huge number of traffic accidents? This is a decent idea..if it comes with the stipulation that old folks be retested to demonstrate that they are still apt on the road. Would work okay for mobility impaired ppl as well.
        Dan K
        • 4 Years Ago
        I thought so too, but I just checked out some surprising statistics: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2011/tables/11s1113.pdf Check out the bottom chart all the way to the right. Maybe some of the older population pisses people off for driving slow, but at least they aren't getting in accidents like the rest of us.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I wish they had this in cars now. Then suburban women who want to eat, talk on phone, text, apply makeup, gesticulate to their passengers, pluck eyebrows, and whack snotty kids could move the bothersome steering wheel out of the way.
      Gordon Chen
      • 4 Years Ago
      I like the idea, except when you take out the wheel, it's actually an eject button that catapults the driver. old people who have difficulty driving should not drive.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why not use the Swing-Away steering wheel design used in cars like my '65 T-Bird?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Perfect for a self driving car, as already shown in 1993's "Demolition Man."
      • 4 Years Ago
      But they still haven't fixed the biggest problem of the equation: Old people driving.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Maybe they're still working on your problem, thinking while stupid. Never mind smoothmarx - you've already solved that by eliminating the thinking part. There is a correlation between aging and diminished driving skills, but it is not a direct correlation. This means that ther are a lot of older drivers out there that drive better than a crossection of the driving population. Before you go after "older people", maybe you should take aim at teenagers, ditzy soccer moms, hispanics, asians, or short people. And then tell them that none of them can drive because a disproportionate number of their demographic doesn't drive up to your standard. Let me know how that type of prejudice works out for you, Adolph.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Like stated before, if you can't get into a vehicle, no matter what your handicap, whether it be age or obesity, you shouldn't be driving... Simply from a safety standpoint. As for older people, some of them can't even work an email account. What makes people think that adding more technology specifically aimed at that demographic will make driving less complicated? I'm not discriminating (maybe a little), but not everyone should be afforded the luxury of driving, possibly endangering others' lives. Which brings up other points... How's the airbag going to be incorporated into this AND in the case of an emergency or accident, how are these "handicapped" people going to egress if the system is disabled?
        Michael Bertovich
        • 4 Years Ago
        100% agreement. i don't care how many fat or old people vote me down. if you can't get in or out of a car, it simply isn't safe for you or others to let you drive.
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