Steering Wheel Hand Placement

Steering Wheel Hand PlacementThere were some students in my Elder College class last week that were surprised to learn that it was no longer generally acceptable to hold the steering wheel with your hands in the 10 and 2 position. Who would have thought that how to hold your vehicle's steering wheel would change, or that it even mattered?

Read Your Owner's Manual

After sharing this idea with the class, the first question was "Why don't they tell us about this?" I countered with a question of my own, "When was the last time you read the owner's manual for your vehicle?"

Steering Wheel Hand Placement Today

The best theory today is for the left hand to be between 7 and 9, and the right hand to be between 3 and 5. This keeps your hands and arms out of the way if the airbag deploys and you don't end up having a fist fight with yourself in the event of a collision. Please note that these instructions call for both hands to be on the wheel.

There are three acceptable practices for holding your steering wheel, depending on the driving situation.

The traditional hand over hand method has died a quiet death except at low speeds in parking lots and at intersections. 

Otherwise, the preferred method to use now is called either push-pull or shuffle steering depending on who you talk to. The steering wheel is pushed with one hand and then pulled with the other, effectively shuffling the wheel between hands. Neither hand ever passes the 12 or 6 position and the wheel is not allowed to slide through both hands at once as it centers after a turn.

One handed steering is acceptable in two circumstances, when operating vehicle controls and while backing up.

Hold the steering wheel in the correct position for shuffle steering with one hand and operate vehicle controls such as the shifter, signal lights or wipers with the other. This should be accomplished when no steering input is required.

Put one hand at the top of the steering wheel when backing up. The direction that you move the steering wheel also be the direction that the back end of your vehicle moves.

Don't Palm the Steering Wheel

A check with an ICBC driver examiner reveals that should you palm the wheel, use only one hand to steer (except when backing up) or grasp the steering wheel from inside the rim it will be marked as an error on a driving test.

Practice Makes Perfect

Changing from hand over hand to shuffle steering may take some practice, but it delivers two benefits: you will be less likely to overcorrect in an emergency and you will suffer less fatigue in your arms and back, arriving at your destination in a safer more comfortable manner.

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I’ve been teaching people this technique for many years, but it isn’t easy to convince people to keep at it until it becomes their new norm.   But those that do convert love it.  

One concern I still have is that even at low speeds, I.e. parking lot speeds, air bags can still deploy from minor bumps, like running into a 6” divider at 10 km/hr. 

Too bad there isn’t a minimum deployment speed specified in vehicle standards, I.e. 15 km/hr for example.   

So I don’t like hand-over-hand even at low speeds.

While I appreciate your comments of reading the owners manual, it would only apply to newer vehicles.

If I read my owners manual, it says because of the airbag, to place hands at the 10 & 2 Position. So, even though I read my manual, I still may not be getting the most current information you are speaking about.  

If you drive a new vehicle, it would likely tell you differently or as you specified, as that is what is the current standard for hands on the wheel.

For me, if I were having to take a driving test to renew my license I would probably go and find the latest booklet for new drivers and review it, but lots wouldn't.

I happen to be one of those people who read the owners manual from cover to cover when I get a new vehicle, or when I need some information. If I were to consult my manual it would tell me to place my hands at 10 and 2 as that was the standard for my vehicle when it was produced.

I am astounded by the number of people who don't read their manuals and have no idea the vast amount of great information that is available in there.

From your comment, I am assuming that you are thinking that everyone is driving a vehicle that was manufactured over the past few years. I am sure it would be in those manuals.

For reference, I think ICBC still excepts 10-2, 9-3 or 8-4 as hand positions for road tests, the key being balance.

If you have balance then you can relax your arm and shoulder muscles, reducing fatigue during long hours of driving.

I wasn’t as keen on 7-5 when we wrote the road test criteria as it tends to be like standing with your feet really close together (less passive leverage, so not as self balancing as the other positions) but as far as I know, examiners don’t mark it as an error.

I use (and taught) 10-2 or 9-3 as preferred options because it allows you to use gravity to overcome the static friction and self centering of the wheel when you initiate a turn, by releasing one hand and letting the weight of the other arm start the turn (pull-push rather than push-pull) further decreasing fatigue.

10-2 still puts your arms outside of or on the edges of the wheel (so the airbag might not displace your arms, or would blow them outward, rather than into your face)

Hello Tim, I'm a long time reader and appreciate the work you do.  I'm puzzled by your recent article on steering wheel hand placement. I've done many high performance driving courses and had significant race track experience. The very first thing that is taught is seating and hand position. Seat position should be such that with your back against the seat you can hang your wrist over the top of the steering wheel. Hand position should be 9 and 3. Nothing else is acceptable.  Grip on the wheel should be relaxed.  I was initially roundly criticized for my 10 and 2 style. I can tell you without hesitation that the 9 and 3 position gives much much better control of the car than any other placement. Having experienced very high speeds, over 250 km/hour, in close proximity of other cars this is without doubt the best way to control a vehicle. Using this seating position and steering techniques apply equally to everyday road use.

Well, a 9 & 3 grip on the wheel is great for a driver on a race track - the driver's hands never need to lift from the wheel.

But try turning the corner at an intersection, or parallel parking, without moving your hands some time ... even Max Verstappen or Yuki Tsunoda had to be able to move their hands on the wheel to pass a regular driving test. And so would you.

I try my best to research what I put here, and what I have written is a combination of what I have been taught and what seems to be available advice from reliable resources.

I've never driven faster than about 175 km/h and felt distinctly uncomfortable at that.

For many years was a one handed driver with my hand resting on the top of the wheel. Then in 81 bought a new Ford Crown Vic and if you remember they had the horn control on the end of the turn signal. Not that I ever used the horn for some reason and I really have no answer for it switched to the 9 - 3 position. If I ever wanted the horn it was right there. Didn't have to move my hands off the wheel.

I find the 9 & 3 the most comfortable position for driving. Have tried the lower position and find that not as comfortable and feel that I do not have as good of control. On twisty back roads never have to move my hands from the 9-3 where the lower positions I find that I do.

Now seat placement may come in here but I always drive with the seat as high as I can get it.

Just got back from a trip downtown.

Reasons to support 9 & 3 is all your ancillary controls are there. In my car there is the dimmer switch, cruise control, signal lights, radio controls, wipers and washer controls, and a few other gadgets. So at the 9 & 3 position I have no reason to take my hand off the wheel

Why would anyone suggest a position where one has to move their hands for such items as signals or dimming the lights. Or could this be one of the reasons fewer and fewer people signal or dim lights?

In reply to by James_O

9 and 3.. is implemented due to air bags. It's to minimize the risk of injury upon air bag deployment 10 and 2 is still accepted

It remains the job of Driving Instructors to teach WHY you position your hands wherever.

Back in the old days before power steering, it was best because it allowed hand-over-hand steering, which was good as the steering ratio required it for cornering or parking maneuvers. Frankly, it still works best when you want to spin the wheel, and the airbag isn't any threat when you're at parking lot speeds.

But it's dumb to teach it as a constant control mechanism. Vehicles these days are easily controlled with 9&3, and particularly drivers who are short are best protected from their own arms/hands by this habit.

Icbc accepts both 10 and 2, and 9 and 3. It simple to explain. Push and pull or shuffle or slide 12-6 and also hand over hand steering are all acceptable

In reply to by Chris Lethbridge

The Driving Instructor's job is teaching this, in corners and curves.

The Driving Examiner's job is ensuring the minimum control.