Mike Stevens | Jul 8, 2011

If you're among the growing number of elderly drivers, or those carrying weight enough that getting into the driver's seat is proving difficult, help may be on the way.

American outfit TRW Automotive has developed a powered retractable steering wheel designed to fold away into the dashboard, offering easier access for motorists needing a little more space to get settled.

The special steering wheel, which TRW concedes is at least five years from hitting the market, features two retractable handles that close and contract before folding away into a dedicated space in the dash.

While the vehicle is switched off, the wheel remains folded away. Once the driver is in position and the engine has started, the steering wheel is re-deployed, fixing into a position pre-set by the driver.

"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," TRW Development Manager Manuel Poyant said.

"Due to the significant growth of small city cars, this technology could open up the possibility for even smaller cabin designs."

TRW says its retractable steering wheel has been developed primarily to help the elderly and obese, along with pregnant women and disabled motorists. Poyant sees potential beyond this original concept however, suggesting that the technology could allow manufacturers to build even smaller city cars.

Shown here (see above) in concept form, the technology would more likely be adopted by manufacturers and integrated into the design of new models, before being made available to customers as an option - depending on the design regulations of the market in question.

According to Poyant, a number of carmakers have already expressed interest in the technology.

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