Driving Tip of the Moment: What's the Best Way To Hold a Steering Wheel?

Driving Tip of the Moment:
What's the Best Way To Hold a Steering Wheel?

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With all the issues we have to deal with in life, it hardly seems crucial to be aware of how we hold a car's steering wheel when we drive. Would you believe me if I told you that holding a steering wheel properly could very well mean the difference between life and death?

We all remember when we took driver's education, the instructor would tell us to "put our hands at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock". But I've since learned that while this wasn't awful advice, it certainly wasn't the best advice. The best way to hold a steering wheel is with two hands, at opposite sides of the steering wheel ("9 o'clock and 3 o'clock" in driver's education jargon).


I suppose if we followed that instructor's advice, it would insure that at least we hold the steering wheel with two hands. Many people seem as though they can't be bothered to. Modern cars with advanced suspensions shield us from the road; they almost tempt us to be lazy. But you can't be fooled by this calm appearance. Cars appear stable when driving along in a straight line. However, when someone near you loses control of their car, and you are forced, within less than 1/2 second, to take an evasive maneuver, the real test of a car's stability comes into question (remember the famous Suzuki Samurai tests?).


  1. It can save your life in an accident situation.
  2. You need to obtain the maximum range of motion by holding the steering wheel at opposite sides. This cannot be achieved with one hand, no matter how cool you think it looks.
  3. You need to keep at least one hand at its original position to insure that you know when your wheels are pointed straight.
  4. Your fingers are closer to the horn, in case you need to use it
  5. Your fingers are near the directionals, making it more likely that you will use them.
  6. If you have American airbags, your arms will not get ripped open.
  7. You can snuggle with your honey at red lights and when you're parked.
  8. I won't assume you're a bonehead or a dangerous fool when I pass you.


The only medical reason I could justify for a person not adhering to this simple truth is if they have had an arm surgically removed. I see no other potential justification. If I want to hold hands with my passenger, that's what red lights are for! I know she'll understand. If you think you have an excuse for doing otherwise, I'd like to hear from you.


When I tried to break this habit, I realized that I would naturally put my arms in the lazy comfortable position, if I even bothered to use two hands at all. I started to be aware of my behavior, and simply corrected myself any time I noticed it. At first this required a conscious mental effort. I would make a mental note of it every time I had to correct myself, and eventually figured out the times I was more prone to this behavior, so that I could be particularly aware of it then. Fatigue was my number one reason for being lazy. Eventually, after a month or two, it became as second-nature as putting on seat belts - even when I'm tired. My arms are now a natural extension of my body, symmetrically positioned at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock, and it feels like I've been driving that way all my life. Surely, I have to take a hand off the steering wheel occasionally to shift or to operate a dial/button, but it goes right back to its rightful position, and I don't even think about it anymore!


Why won't Detroit apply some scientific reasoning to designing cars? Oh, silly me, because then they can't extract every last cent of profit out of the American public!! [why do I ask such silly silly questions?!?!]

But seriously, the steering units in many American cars are oversensitive to steering inputs and can make a car very unstable. People are lazy, and they want power steering, and by God, Detroit will deliver. A properly designed power-steering unit will be feather light when parking, but stiff like a truck when on the highway, to insure stability at higher speeds. It will also make it harder to introduce instability at speed. This is called Variable Power-Assisted (or Speed Sensitive) Steering. The Germans figured this out decades ago; the Japanese have make great strides in this technology and create steering units quite well now, and the Americans, well, the Americans put radio buttons on their steering wheels.

Also, since the introduction of airbags, drivers are being taught, once again, to place their hands at the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions. This is the way we should have been taught to hold the steering wheel all along. But there are numerous reports of nasty injuries to drivers' arms as a result of an airbag explosion. Particularly in the United States, where airbags are poorly designed and inherently dangerous, it is necessary to distance yourself from the airbag during detonation - the safest way to protect your arms from possibly life-long injuries is to position them properly.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Buckle up, and please don't drive like my brother.

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Steven Jay Bernstein
P. O. Box 11242
Hauppauge, NY 11788 USA
updated Monday, October 06, 1997 15:30:16