Holding the Steering Wheel Correctly for Maximum Safety

Drive and Stay Alive, Inc., urges drivers to ignore the latest fad for holding the steering wheel at the eight o’clock and four o’clock positions. One recent example of such advice is shown in the box, below.

Some so-called experts are recommending 8 & 4 on the basis that it reduces the chance of injury if a collision occurs and the driver’s airbag fires but this is highly inadvisable as it creates much more danger than it might eliminate, for the reasons shown beneath the yellow box.

A Recent, Classic Example of Bad Advice

Gary Richards’ column; San Jose Mercury News; March 19, 2005.

Q Gary, I need an opinion. When I took driving lessons, the correct place for the hands on the steering wheel was at 10 and 2 o’clock. With cars now having air bags, I hear that this positioning is a dangerous idea since the hands and arms may be thrown back into the driver’s face if the air bag is activated, causing additional injury. The solution is to hold the wheel at 8 and 4. Any thoughts on which is the better position for gripping the steering wheel?

Bill Worthington

A Yep, lower ’em. Many police departments train officers to place their hands anywhere from 9-3 to as low as 7-4. The 10-2 position has been the traditional favorite because, in theory, a higher grip allows a driver to keep the car running smoothly without needing to jerk the wheel suddenly if cut off or if there is a hazard in the road.

 

But air bags have changed that equation. During a collision, the bag will explode out at more than 100 mph, protecting the driver’s head and chest from slamming into the front of the vehicle. At 10-2 or higher on the wheel, a driver’s arms can get walloped or thrown back into his or her face if an air bag deploys.

(Gary Richards)

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DSA Footnote:  With no disrespect to any police departments concerned, we would comment that if they are advising 8 & 4 then they, too, are getting it wrong. Very few police departments in the USA give their patrol drivers more than one week of driver training, and the amount of emphasis placed on vehicle dynamics leaves precious little time for other equally vital aspects. If one compares this training to countries where traffic patrol police officers are fortunate enough to receive anywhere from an absolute minimum of six weeks, right up to possibly sixteen weeks of driver training — on public roads and not on private circuits, where a vast benefit is lost — then it perhaps should be considered that police driver training in America is not the final word on driver skills or safety.

Eddie Wren, Executive Director, Drive and Stay Alive, Inc.

It is perfectly true that the number of arm injuries has increased since the advent of airbags, but there are two very important points to be made:

1. Holding the wheel at “8 & 4” not only encourages lazy driving, with the arms resting on the driver’s thighs or lap, but it also significantly reduces a driver’s ability to steer accurately and swiftly in the event of an emergency. Why else would the “10 & 2”  or  “9 & 3” positions have been recommended for so many decades in the first place?

    Surely it is vastly preferable that a driver is able to respond accurately and promptly and thereby avoid a crash than it is to compromise this ability in the interests of possibly reducing arm injuries after a crash?

2. The aforementioned increase in arm injuries (and related facial injuries, when the arms are smashed into a driver’s face by an expanding airbag) is undoubtedly exacerbated by widespread use, in the USA, of “hand over” steering techniques (known elsewhere as crossing the arms).  If the “push pull” (a.k.a. “shuffle”) steering method is used instead of “hand over,” then the chances of a driver getting one or even both arms smashed into his/her face by an airbag are reduced dramatically.

But the main thing is that avoiding a crash by holding and using the steering wheel properly is vastly preferable to having a crash while hopefully minimizing any arm injuries — what about injuries to the rest of your body, to your passengers, and to other people on the road if you have a crash that could have been avoided? (That unhindered airbag isn’t going to save everybody!)

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Finally, we will add a more general recommendation relating to another aspect of alleged safe driving that often appears in the U.S. media, and that is whenever you read about driving advice from racing drivers please remember that on race tracks those racing drivers may undoubtedly be the best drivers in the world, but that does NOT apply on public roads.

Race track driving and public road driving are entirely different disciplines and require a radically different approach. Race driver steering techniques — and several of their other specialized methods, such as the “racing line” — should NEVER be used on public roads. They are inappropriate and can be very dangerous.