Where to put hands on the steering wheel?

Where to put hands on the steering wheel?By Gary Richards

From the first day in driving school, this lesson is drilled into our heads: Firmly grip the steering wheel in the 10-2 position. Now, law enforcement agencies are training officers to place their hands lower on the steering wheel, and some drivers' groups are changing position on hand position.

For more than a year at the San Jose, Calif., Police Department, the recommended hold has been 9-3. The American Automobile Association also prefers 9-3. For the California Highway Patrol, the position can be as low as 8-4.  "My daughter came back from driving class and said they were teaching her to hold the wheel at 10-2," said Robert Sepulveda, a San Jose officer who has trained new cops in proper driving techniques. "I told her that's not what we teach . . . that 10-2 is inappropriate."

The 10-2 position is 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 he is cut off or there is a hazard in the road. But air bags are changing 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. With the hands at 10-2 or higher on the wheel, a driver's arms can get walloped or thrown back into his face if an air bag deploys.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration takes a neutral position on the grip, saying there is not enough evidence of arms or wrists being broken by exploding air bags to recommend 9-3 over 10-2 or anything else. However, the agency does say that the arms of drivers holding the steering wheel from the side are not as likely to be caught between their bodies and the air bag.

At this point, most position changing is happening in law enforcement. Although the California Department of Motor Vehicles says it has no preferred position, many local driving schools say the DMV tells them to teach motorists the 10-2 grip.  "It's 10-2 according to their 2001 handbook," said Ruth Zimmer, owner of Advantage Driving School in San Jose. "Of course, the DMV is always three years behind."

Many drivers do not heed any of the recommended positions as they cruise down a freeway. Some prefer the 10-and-a-drink position or the 1 o'clock only hold. "I'm bad. I'm bad. I know that," said Donnae Youngman, a legal assistant in Palo Alto, Calif., who usually rests her left arm on the window side while the right arm grips the bottom of the wheel.  "If something crops up on the road when I'm driving, I'll go back to 10-2. But now they don't know if that is right?" That's right.

"I can help stir things up even further," said Steve Schwab, the police chief in Morgan Hill, Calif., who recently sent his officers to an emergency vehicle operations course in Alameda County where the recommended position was 7-5.  "The reason is to ensure that if they crash and the air bag goes off, the driver's arms are pushed down or out, not up," the chief said. "But keep in mind that all this controversy about hand positions is targeted toward training drivers of emergency vehicles in high-risk situations."

For the CHP, 10-2, 9-2 or 8-4 are all approved positions. The reason: "All vehicle steering wheels and air bags are not created equal," said Pete Barra, public information officer for the CHP's Bay Area division. "Not to mention the comfort level of the driver's hand position."

But Gordon Booth, owner of Drivetrain in Willow Glen, Calif., doesn't go along with the idea that lower is better. "I don't think there is one catch-all hand position," he said. "If you are in fairly heavy traffic, I would disagree with anything less than 9-3. I much prefer 10-2 or even 11-1.'

Traffic cops say in recent years, another new position has gained considerable popularity. "Mostly, I see the left hand up on the wheel," said San Jose officer Sepulveda, "and the other hand on a cell phone."

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10 and 2 and above positions cause oversteer in cars with rack and pinion steering which are more responsive requiring less movement. It is OK in older American cars which require more motion and are less responsive. I have heard that holding the wheel at 12 can result i a broken arm in a crash from the airbag.

i was taught to drive as such and surprisingly, you get a good amount of control doing so not to mention it is also comfortable and safe

in Kuwait we did a research for the best way and the result was 10-2 is the besr way & the best position

If there is any organization that would like to see first hand how 8-4 driving steering input is properly employed in Emergency response, recreational driving or precision/performance driving or racing, contact me and l will come for a demonstration.

I am an Advanced Tactical Driving instructor for more than 8 years and I teach and employ with great success 8-4 input steering.

There is nothing, NOTHING one can do from 10-2; 9-3, and can not be done from 8-4, yet there are a lot of things that one can do from 8-4 impossible to achieve from any other hand position.

Your research is flawed or was conducted on faulty premisses.

I too am an advanced driving instructor. I am nothing special, but I know some highly respected race drivers and driving trainers that taught me all I know and they all advocated a quater to three grip. This is the grip which most rims are adjusted to fit, with sockets for the thumbs and sometimes the heels of the thumbs too, and with the signals easily reachable by the fingertips. Also, in 8 to-4, the force of gravity is going to pull the arms down in a way that will tire out the arms and reduce the balance of the grip, relative to quarter to three or ten to two.

This position (quarter to three) also gives the biggest possible leverage on the steering column, so the grip is more balanced and the tactile sensitivity is maximized. In terms of emergency response, the maximum amplitude that both hands can reach is 260 degrees of steering, versus about 180 degrees at 8 to-4 or ten to-two respectivelly. In 8 to-4 the amplitude is further reduced because the trunk poses a physical block to the free movement of the arms.

This grip is the most suitable base for most advanced steering techniques I know, including the classic rally driving technique which we advocate in our driving courses, as well as other techniques I have seen in the big racing and driving schools in Europe. It is also the grip adopted by any race driver I have seen or heard of.

Precisely, Astraist. Why would you adopt 8-4 or 10-2 which gives less leverage and less feel? Do these people open doors by pushing halfway between the handle and the hinge? Do they change gear by grasping the gearshift anywhere other than the top of the lever?

I generally use 9-3 because of the construction of the steering wheel. I can do 10-2 somewhat, but I can't turn the steering wheel very far.
In 9-3 position, I can turn the wheel a little over 180 degrees with one effort.
In 8-4, almost 270 degrees!

10 and 4 for me if i use 2 hands.

You got a serious problem if you need to turn right fast! 10-4 is the typical Johnny feel good grip, with one arm on the window, the other hanging on the wheel!
No control over the car like that!

it feels awkward if i put my right hand on the wheel. about 95% of the time i have my left hand either at 11 or a 6 o clock position. if im stopped at a stop sign and i turn left, thats the only time i use my right hand. i HATE using 2 hands, only if im forced i will do, but i will do it as long as my left hand is higher. i will do a 9-4 or 10-3 if im forced to.

9 and 3 is the only logical choice. I don't know who came up with 10 and 2 which feels counter-intuitive. Watch Formula 1 drivers they always use 9-3. Why do you suppose all the control stalks for the turn indicators, wipers and lights are at the 9 and 3 position. Simple, because that is where they can be reached easily when you're using 9-3.

My early Miata (don't know about later models) has its air bag comparment extending acroos the wheel, covering the 9-3 postions. I was taught 10-2 at racing schools decades ago, works fine on the road as well and, in competitive driving, allows a complete half turn of the wheel before reaching wrist lock. I prefer the "always two hands on the wheel" (excluding shifting) discipline for controlling a sports car. Some current road racing instructors believe otherwise, and one wouldn't have me back to his training facility because I wouldn't change that!

The steering grip illustrated above is wrong! nor the 10 to-2 grip and neither the 8 to 4 grip are proper. 9 to-3 is the only basic grip acceptable. The wheel is designed for such a grip, with special intendations for the thumbs.

The steering grip results in the widest possible hand deployment which creates the biggest leverage over the steering column for accurate and agile steering input to a maximum amount of 270 degrees of steering, sufficient for any avoidance manuever or grose steering corrections required in a straight road. In 8 to-4 or 10 to-2 the leverage is reduced and the grip is not supported by the spokes of the wheel.

With a reasonable seating position aligned, 9 to-3 is going to be more ergonomic due to a more neutral position of the hands at the shoulder, arm, forearm and wrist. In 10 to-2 your arms will be held high (although rested against the wheel), so the shoulders and arms are stretched forward and the forearm and wrist are twisted.

The subject of the airbag is important but should be referred to as secondary. The operation of airbags, seatbelts, crumple zones and other passive safety instrumentation is part of our "secondary safety" which refers to our passive protection during a crash, while our main concern is for our "primary safety" which describes the active ability to avoid the crash or reduce it's magnitude.

Our primary safety is hindered in any position other than 9 to-3, particularly at 8 to-4. This can increase the risk of a collision that would result in airbag deployment. Furthermore, there are other injuries that can be caused to the body or arms in a colllision, that do not involve the front airbag, and these can be eliminated by increasing steering control, but not eliminated by gripping the wheel at a certain way during a crash. Besides, the risk of a collision involves other parties like your passengers, pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles, who couldn't care less about abrasions to your forearms because you held the wheel at 10 to-2.

The whole disscussion is out of context since airbags should not cause damage to the arms unless held higher than 10 to-2. At 10 to-2 or lower there should be no harm. Many American automobiles have bigger airbags which are more dangerous to the arms, but there still is no serious difference between holding the wheel at 9 to-3 or 8 to-4. The arms should be forced aside by the airbag or pinned down at the knees.

In pre-airbag days, I was taught 10-2. But ask some EMTs about the types of airbag injuries they see now. And just think about where an exploding airbag will push your hands and arms. The EMTs recommend 8-4, and with good reason (I've seen the photos-yuk). Unfortunately, many steering wheels are poorly designed - the designs actually discourage employing the safest position.

I have driven in high speeds ( 180mph plus). The answer is simple. When driving low speed and in city, drive with hands in the 9-3 or 10-2 depending on the speed so you have great correction opurtunity. As you hit higher speeds, you lower your grips to lower 8-4. I have done this over and over, and you have less chance over correctling with low 8-4 grip at high speed then 9-3 or 10-2. The reason we don't recognise this is because the people who make these rules do not, or never have driven over 80 mile per hour in there life. Trust me, you must adapt as a driver and there is no best all round way to postion your hands. I have seen over and over again people at 60mph or plus go across all lanes back and forth with over correction issues, due to high hand grip on the steering wheel!! Get it down! Save some lives! Jsun Blaze

man i just use one hand on 7 o'clock and if i have to turn i put my hand at the top of the steering wheel and rotate my hand in a small circle...i know that on the DMV test it is always 10 and 2

I always have used either 11 and 3 or 1 and 9. It fits most city driving and gives a bit of extra control. Always pull the wheel and never push. When turning a tight corner, be sure to use hand over hand if necessary, never take both hands off the wheel in a corner. Laziness comes in to play on highways often, sometime s even city driving (using one hand at 12). If you are going 20-25 mph, nbd, but a little faster, 11 and 3 are the best positions.

Clearly, the best position is 9-3 since it gives you the best leverage and greatest horizontal range for your arms.

Unfortunately, most steering wheels I see (even on newer cars) block you from the 9-3 grip. WHY??? It's like they're still designing them with 10-2 in mind...which is what they taught in the 1960's...

Anyone using thumb holes as a reason needs to consider what happens to their precious thumbs when they are in an accident and the wheels hit a gutter/hard object. Never stick your thumb through the wheel. Any off roader can tell you that too.
10-4 gives great high speed response but can get tiring on a long haul.
8-4 gives extra stability at the expense of speed of response. Great for trucks and buses as well.
9-3 gives no extra leverage in practice. In fact it reduces leverage. If you started at the 9-3 you started at the peak leverage and its all down hill from there. You lose the approach high of the leverage curve. So less than 1/16 of a turn later and you lost your leverage advantage. Starting at either 8-4 or 10-2 will allow you to get ride the peak twice as long. Not sure how much anyone can avoid in under 1/16 of a turn. To top it off its the most tiring position of them all.

The correct way to turn a wheel is a push pull system. Push with one hand while the other slides and waits. Then pull while the other goes back to a new position. You get near continuous turning that way and both hands are always ready to grip if required.
The use of a thumb hole/indentation negates this style as well.

I recommend the 10-2 for normal driving. I switch to the 8-4 when there is heavy wind.
There is no one perfect hold for any condition so practice all.
Even the 9-3 is useful if you are going off road, straight and are in heavy rutted tracks.

What you say is true for old cars and old roads. The succesfull combination of modern steering systems and modern tarmac roads make it perfectly safe to put the thumbs through the wheel. If you do go off-road, than put the thumbs on the face of the wheel, but on the road - inside the wheel. They play a crucial part in the grip of the wheel.

9 and 3 does increase the leverage (amplitude). In 9 and 3 you can turn the wheel about 260 degrees in each direction in the event of a sudden evasive manuever. In 10 to-2 or 8 to-4 you get about 180 degrees. These positions also reduce the stability of your grip and your ability to turn quickly or with less effort.

Conclusion: Hold the wheel at 9 and 3.

The steering technique is more of a matter of personal style, and there is nothing wrong with the well-established pull-push technique. However, there are more effective techniques. I will not describe them because they are a bit more advanced and complex, but I can give you a few points to punder on:

1. In pull-push, you don't use your muscles all that effectivelly. Pulling the wheel is much better than pushing. It is easier and more smooth and controled, due to the use of finer muscles in the forearm and palm, rather than the shoulders.

2. In pull-push, you don't maximize the amplitdue: You turn the wheel in movements that are at best 180 degrees each. The more steering you turn for a single hand motion - the better. In the advanced steering techniques you can turn the wheel as much as 360 degrees in a single hand motion

3. In pull-push, your control of the wheel isn't as good as it can be, since both hands move up and down, even though only one hand is steering. Most of the advanced steering techniques follow a predictive notion, which means that your hands will remain for as long as possible in the basic grip (9 and 3).

4. In pull-push, you cannot steer as quickly. In the advanced techniques you can steer from lock to-lock within a second or two, and control the wheel in all and any situations, including sudden skids.

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