Even an All-Star shortstop can fumble a routine ground ball if he’s not in the ready position when the ball is hit. Similarly, even the most skilled drivers can fail to avert a crash — one that should be avoidable — if their hands aren’t in the ready position and properly gripping the steering wheel. When trying to avoid a collision, every fraction of a second counts.
“Recommendations for steering control and hand positions differ from vehicle to vehicle based on the size, age, speed, and responsiveness of the vehicle,” the California Department of Motor Vehicles notes in the agency’s driver’s manual. That said, there are some general guidelines for late-model passenger cars and pickup trucks.
If you think of the steering wheel as the face of a clock, place your hands at 9 and 3 o’clock, or slightly lower at 8 and 4 o’clock. To reduce face, arm and hand injuries in the case of a deployed air bag, you should grip the outside of the steering wheel, with your knuckles on the outside of the wheel and your thumbs stretched along the rim, according to the California DMV.
Here's advice on three common steering methods:
- Hand-to-Hand Steering — This steering method may also be called push/pull steering. Using this steering method, your hands do not cross over the face of the steering wheel, and therefore there’s less chance of injury to your face, arms, or hands in the event of an air bag deploying. When using this method, start with your hands at 9 and 3 o’clock, or slightly lower at 8 and 4 o’clock. Depending on the direction you’re turning, one hand will push the wheel up, and the opposite hand pulls down.
- Hand-over-Hand Steering — This method of steering can be used when turning at low speeds, when parking, or when recovering from a skid. When using this method, start with your hands at 9 and 3 o’clock, or slightly lower at 8 and 4 o’clock. Depending on the direction you’re turning, one hand will push the wheel up, while the other hand will let go, reach across the other arm, grasp the wheel and pull up.
- One-Hand Steering — NHTSA recommends using one hand steering only when turning while backing, or when operating vehicle controls that require removing a hand from the steering wheel. The only time that a 12 o’clock hand position is recommended is when backing a vehicle while turning, since the driver must turn in his or her seat to see the path of the vehicle. The placement of hands at 9 and 3 o’clock, or slightly lower at 8 and 4 o’clock, on the wheel is critical to vehicle balance.
To watch a AAA video on proper steering wheel grips, click on the photo or link below the headline.