"guide the course of a vehicle," Old English steran (Mercian), stieran (West Saxon), from Proto-Germanic *steurijanan (cf. Old Norse styra, Old Frisian stiora, Dutch sturen, Old High German stiuren, German steuern "to steer," Gothic stiurjan "to establish, assert"), related to *steuro "a rudder, a steering" (cf. Old English steor "helm, rudder," German Steuer and first element in starboard), from PIE *steu-ro- (cf. Greek stauros "stake, pole"), from root *sta- "to stand" (see stet).
The notion is of a stiff, upright pillar or post used in steering. To steer clear of in the figurative sense of "to avoid completely" is recorded from 1723. Related: Steered; steering. Steering committee in the U.S. political sense is recorded from 1887.