My driver’s ed instructor, when I took driver’s ed in the year 2000, insisted on my hands being at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. Except it has now come to my attention that that isn’t good.
This has been the case for almost a decade now, at least in cars with airbags, the idea being that if your hands are at 10 and 2 when the airbag deploys your arms may get broken or your shoulder dislocated or your hands are propelled into your head and you suffer some other grievous injury.
Your hands, instead, should be at 8 and 4, or more like 7:30 and 4:30 when using the hand-to-hand steering method, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which it says is the preferred steering method:
Hand-to-Hand Steering: (commonly called push/pull steering)
- When using this method, your left hand grasps the wheel between 7 and 8 o’clock, and your right hand between 4 and 5 o’clock.
- Depending on the direction you turn, your right or left hand pushes the wheel up and the opposite hand slides up, grasps the wheel and pulls down to turn.
- While the pulling hand moves down, the hand that initially pushed up slides back toward its original position to make adjustments as needed.
- The driver should use the area on the wheel between 11 and 8 o’clock with the left hand and the area on the wheel between 1 and 8 o’clock with the right hand regardless of the direction of the turn.
- Simply reverse the process to bring the vehicle back to the desired path.
- Since your hands never cross over the steering wheel, there is less chance of an injury to the face, hands or arms induced by your hands or arms in the event of a frontal crash due to an air bag.
Fewer things have made me feel older than encountering this document, since when I was in driver’s ed the instructor was insistent that everyone use the hand-over-hand method instead, described by NHTSA thusly:
- Use this method of steering when the turning at low speeds with limited visibility at an intersection or when parking the vehicle or recovering from a skid.
- When using hand-over-hand steering, your left hand grasps the steering wheel between 8 and 9 o’clock and your right hand between 3 and 4 o’clock.
- Depending on the direction of the turn, use the right top third of the steering wheel to more the wheel to the right and use the left top third of the wheel to move the wheel to the left.
- Your right or left hand grasps the wheel and pushes up, the opposite hand lets go, reaches across the other arm, grasps the wheel and pulls the wheel up, over and down as appropriate.
- As the wheel is being pulled up, the hand that initiated the pushing motion releases the wheel and returns to its original position.
- Simply reverse the hand-over-hand process to bring the vehicle into your intended path.
I will be straight with you: I drive one-handed a lot of the time, except when Things Get Hairy, which they often do in New York City, or if I’m momentarily pretending to be a racecar driver. That is mostly because for many years I had one hand on the wheel and the other on a cigarette. And while I don’t smoke anymore, my instincts remain the same. Also, I am a very slow, defensive driver, my main goal being that things don’t Get Hairy; anything other than that would be discourteous to passengers and other drivers or simply inviting death.
That said, I will “take the note” as they say in Hollywood and try to be mindful of the 7:30 and 4:30 thing. NHTSA says that driving with a single hand at 12 — the unambiguously coolest way to drive — is preferable only while going in reverse.