Where to put your hands on the steering 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 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 atop the wheel anywhere between the 11 and one o’clock spots. This driver’s hand is casually draped over the wheel hanging in mid-air. We call this the praying Mantis position. 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 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.

There are a lot of “hookers” on the road, not necessarily of the female variety 

Our definition of a hooker is the driver who grabs the steering wheel from beneath. One hand or the other is hooked under the rim, with knuckles toward the windshield or dash. These people are especially evident in slow-speed parking or maneuvering.

The “I’m cool” look takes on a variety 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 is usually slouched down as well, practically prone with the seat pushed well back from the wheel, and reclined as much as possible.

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

Some drivers steer with their knees

There are others, some steer with their knees while working on a beverage. This same driver might also be eating a burger, or working in their phone. They could also have couple of fingers of the same hand holding their coffee, while the other rests.

To put this in perspective, there are three things a driver should consider regarding how they hold the steering wheel 1) airbag deployment, 2) emergency action and 3) comfort.

AIRBAGS – Generally speaking you don’t want your hands in a position where they or your hands are in front of the wheel. This includes atop or across the wheel. 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.

An airbag deployment can cause a lot of damage

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 travel. Similarly if a hand is 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 166 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.