The Right Ways and Wrong Ways to Hold Your Steering Wheel Might Surprise You

The way that we steer our vehicles doesn’t seem to have changed much in the past several decades, and, chances are, how you first started steering is how you’ve always steered. But, just because our habits haven’t changed doesn’t mean that we haven’t learned more efficient and safe ways to control our vehicles, and that starts with the basics of how you place your hands on the steering wheel, but also how you move your hands as you turn your vehicle. In fact, what many of us were taught in the past decades turns out to be a lot less true than you might think, and it may be time to re-teach yourself your steering wheel holding habits.

Hand-to-hand steering

A man holds the steering wheel of a new VW ID.3
A man holds the steering wheel of a new VW ID.3 | Hauke-Christian Dittrich, picture-alliance, Getty Images

Many drivers grew up learning hand-to-hand steering, which isn’t as widely taught or practiced today. In older driver’s ed courses, instructors often told drivers that the best hand placement for everyday driving is the standard 10-and-2 o’clock position, but the NHTSA has recently announced that this placement is no longer recommended. Instead, it is not recommended that your left hand be placed at the 7-8 o’clock position and your right hand is placed at the 4-5 o’clock position. As you turn, your hands will shuffle up and down the side of the steering wheel rather than cross, reducing your risk of injury in case of an accident. Because you maintain constant contact with the steering wheel with both hands, this also optimizes your control of the steering.

“Two and 10 o’clock is not recommended because it can be dangerous in vehicles with smaller steering wheels and equipped
with air bags”

Using Effective Steering Techniques, NHTSA

Hand-over-hand steering

Holding a steering wheel
A hostess holds a steering wheel | Jörg Carstensen, picture alliance, Getty Images

Hand-over-hand steering is best for turning at low speeds when you don’t have maximized visibility. This including turning through blind corners or through an intersection, or when parking in a parking spot. For hand-over-hand steering, the left hand should be placed at the 8-9 o’clock position and the right should be placed at the 3-4 o’clock position. As you turn, your hands will cross over one another on the top third of the steering wheel depending on which direction you are looking to turn. This isn’t an effective method of turning at higher speeds, but it is a good option if you are hydroplaning or otherwise lose control of the vehicle and you need to recover from the skid.

One hand steering

One-hand steering doesn’t sound like something that would ever be recommended by the NHTSA, but it is actually helpful in certain specific situations. When backing up and looking back over your shoulder to the rear of the vehicle, or when operating the controls of a vehicle or infotainment system, you will be driving with one hand on the wheel. Because you are controlling the steering with only one hand, the placement at this time is incredibly important. The 12 o’clock position is only recommended when backing up your vehicle, though many drivers may opt to use their backup camera rather than turning around, otherwise, it is still best to use the 8-9 o’clock or 3-4 o’clock position.

While it isn’t always comfortable to keep both of your hands on the steering wheel at all times, the few seconds it takes to react in case of an obstacle, potential collision, or skid, can delay the time it takes to regain control of your vehicle safely or effectively avoid hitting something in the roadway, including another vehicle. By keeping both hands on the steering wheel and at the proper placement, or knowing how to turn in case of different situations, you can minimize your risk while driving, and continue to drive safely and confidently on the road in any driving condition.

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