Using steering wheel controls as a method to up the driving safety quotient is about as easy as it comes. Manufacturers simply place the steering wheel buttons in positions where they're easily reached by one thumb or the other without the driver having to remove his or her hands from the wheel. As Jim Morrison, that paragon of rock-and-roll safety, sang, "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel."
Even in the best-designed cars, having things like radio controls in the center console between the two front seats requires the driver to take his or her eyes off the road for a second, or two -- or even more, sometimes -- to locate the volume knob or station preset buttons. Once the driver finds the button or knob they're looking for, one hand has to leave the steering wheel to change the radio station or crank up the volume.
By using steering wheel buttons, all those extra motions can be avoided. At first, the driver may need to glance down to remember which button moves the radio station to the next preset or which toggle switch adjusts the volume. But after using these steering wheel controls for even a few trips, the driver will become accustomed to the placement. With a little practice, your thumbs will switch from your spouse's favorite station to yours and turn up the tunes without ever taking your eyes from the road or your hands from the steering wheel.
Phones that are able to be used with wireless systems like Bluetooth further up the auto safety ante. Many states restrict in-car mobile phone use to hands-free devices. A steering wheel with built-in buttons for sending and receiving phone calls makes the process easier and a lot safer.
But what's beyond these basic controls? Actually, quite a bit. Let's take a look on the next page.