Hands on the Wheel

Steering wheel
Placement of your hands on the wheel plays an important role in safe driving


hands on the steering wheel
Placement of your hands on the wheel plays an important role in safe driving

You can tell a lot about drivers by the where they place their hands on the steering wheel.

There is the classic nine and three – with subtle variations ranging from ten and two to eight and four. This person we’ll call a “driver” who is aware of what is going on and concentrating on the job at hand. A very rare breed.

Another less popular, but still used variation of both hands on the wheel is with two hands touching or close to each other atop the wheel. This person is usually a very tense driver, hunched forward in his or her seat, late for an appointment and often likely to be unaware of other vehicles to the side.

In the single handed sweepstakes there is the right or left wrist touching the wheel anywhere between the 11 and one o’clock spots with the hand casually draped over the wheel hanging in mid-air. We call this the praying Mantis position and it should warn you of a driver who is so relaxed and confident they don’t have to pay attention because nothing could possibly go wrong.

Plenty of folks still think they are driving a bicycle judging by the handlebar position where their hands are gripping the spokes of the steering wheel near the center. A variation is to have only one hand on the wheel – on a spoke.

We see a lot of “hookers” on the road. Many, in fact are females. But our definition of hooker involves the person who grabs the steering wheel from beneath, with either hand hooked under the rim, knuckles toward the windshield or dash. These people are especially evident in slow-speed parking or maneuvering.

The “I’m cool” look can take on a lot of forms all of which involve having only one hand or a small portion of that hand on the wheel, preferably where nobody can see it – down low. This driver can be found all scrunched over against the driver’s door with the left hand and forearm wrapped around the wheel, or lying practically prone in a seat pushed well back from the wheel and preferably reclined as much as possible.

The relaxed or I’m tired position has one hand on the wheel and the other draped across the back of the right hand seat, obviously someone waiting for a partner to hug.

There are others, such as steering with the knees while you open a beverage, eat a burger or dial a number, perhaps a couple of fingers of the same hand holding your coffee while the other rests.

Now to put this in perspective, there are three things a driver should consider and most of the above obviously don’t 1) airbag deployment, 2) emergency action and 3) comfort.

AIRBAGS – Generally speaking you don’t want to hand your hands in a position where your forearm crosses the center of the wheel. This includes atop the wheel or across the wheel to the opposite side. Not only do you have far less control in an emergency – if the airbag deploys you’ll be left with a batch of badly broken bones in not only your arm, but probably your face as that arm is thrown violently into it.

EMERGENCIES – If you are faced with an emergency you will have to move the wheel quickly in one direction or another – and sometimes both in quick succession. If you have only one hand on the wheel, and that on the side of the wheel, you’ll have very limited movement. If for example your right hand is at the three o’clock position, you’ll be able to steer left quite well. But if you have to steer to the right you will be limited to about 45 degrees of motion. Similarly if that same hand was at 10 o’clock you’d be able to steer right, but have limited ability to turn left.

COMFORT – the once preferred ten and two position has changed recently to eight and four, where permitted by the wheel spokes. Studies have shown that keeping the hands slightly lower, below the level of the heart, results in improved blood circulation to the hands and less likelihood of “tingly” fingers. Different designs of steering wheel will dictate where you can place your hands.

Watch your fellow drivers, see where they have their hands on the wheel and see how that relates to how they are driving.

About Richard 91 Articles
At the age of five I was already obsessed with all things automotive being able to identify the make and model of car by just the sound of its engine going down the street in front of our house in the small town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. Although I have been covering and writing about the automotive scene for more than 40 years and the light still grows brightly.

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