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You're Driving All Wrong, Says NHTSA 756

Posted by timothy
from the but-officer-my-hands-are-on-the-wheel dept.
antdude writes "This MSNBC Bottom Line story/article says that 'If you're a conscientious motorist who still does everything the way your driver's-ed instructor told you to, you're doing it all wrong. For decades, the standard instruction was that drivers should hold the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 positions, as envisioned on a clock. This, it turns out, is no longer the case. In fact, driving that way could cost you your arms or hands in particularly gruesome ways if your airbag deploys. Instead AAA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and many driving instructors now say you should grip the wheel at 9 and 3 o'clock. A few go even further, suggesting 8 and 4 to avoid the airbag mechanism as much as possible, but what formal research has been published on the varieties of hand positions suggests that this may lessen your control of the car.'" I usually hold even lower on the wheel, perhaps 4:30 and 7:30, but I also drive with my seat pushed farther forward than most people like. Drivers, what's your approach?
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You're Driving All Wrong, Says NHTSA

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  • by Wrath0fb0b (302444) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @04:59PM (#39468747)

    ... like a boss.

    • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:02PM (#39468783) Journal
      And the other arm hanging out the window.
    • by danomac (1032160) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:08PM (#39468831)

      I drive with one hand at 12 o'clock, and the other holding a cup of coffee! Oh, my car doesn't have airbags. Or ABS. Or a million other safety items.

      When something happens, I'll be in a giant flaming ball of fire, so I'll have other things to worry about.

    • by John Bresnahan (638668) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:08PM (#39468839)
      I was driving like that when I got in to an accident. The air bag threw my hand up into the windshield hard enough for it to punch a hole in the windshield.

      Fortunately, there wasn't too much damage to my hand, but a decade later, the scar on the back of my hand is still evident.

      I no longer drive with a hand at the 12:00 position. It's 3:00 and 9:00 for me.
      • by Higgins_Boson (2569429) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:20PM (#39468943)

        I was driving like that when I got in to an accident. The air bag threw my hand up into the windshield hard enough for it to punch a hole in the windshield. Fortunately, there wasn't too much damage to my hand, but a decade later, the scar on the back of my hand is still evident. I no longer drive with a hand at the 12:00 position. It's 3:00 and 9:00 for me.

        You're not impressing anyone here with your made up stories of superhuman feats of strength.

        Braggart.

      • by thermopile (571680) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @08:43PM (#39470435) Homepage

        I was in an airbag-deploying accident about a year ago, and ended up with some pretty good bruises / rashes on my arms. I think I was at 10 and 2, roughly.

        In the "ideal" case where you hit something and your hands remain at the 9 and 3 positions, this would be great. But I'm willing to wager that for most accidents, there is at least 0.2 seconds of [unprintable], in which case you will try to swerve out of the way. In this case, as was the case for me, your hands and arms will inevitably be right in front of the airbag, since you're twisting the wheel in an effort to go around whatever it is in front of you. The airbag goes off and your arms get pinned between the airbag and your chest ... or worse.

        So, I applaud the intent to keep your arms and hands out of the way with the 9 and 3 o'clock positions, but I just don't think it will do any good in most real-world situations.

        • by John Bresnahan (638668) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @09:13PM (#39470591)
          Maybe, but the airbag rotates with the steering wheel, so if you keep your hands on 3 and 9 positions as you turn the wheel, the airbag should still explode in between your arms, instead of through them.

          YMMV
        • by Cruciform (42896) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @11:38PM (#39471429) Homepage

          If you learn how to steer from the bottom of the wheel, at the 8 and 4 position like some cops do then your hands stay down out of the way at all times.
          Another thing to learn from the police: When it comes to your window, keep it up all the way or down all the way. Then if you have an accident you don't have a guillotine ready to chop off any bit that goes out the window.

      • One hand, six o'clock.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 26, 2012 @01:12AM (#39471795)

        Of course, over here in Europe (you know, where the history comes from) these injuries are incredibly rare.

        We have this great device called a seat belt, which is compulsory to wear. Our airbags are known as "SRS" - the Supplimentary Restraint System. They don't explode at you with anywhere near the force of the US ones because they're not trying to restrain your entire body - just cushion the impact of your head upon the steering wheel or dashboard. The massive force required to restrain the body is provided by the seat belt, enhanced in most cases these days by an impact-triggered tightening mechanism.

        It puzzles me why a population would choose the "freedom" to not wear a seatbelt and then happily accept the consequence - a much bigger explosive device mounted right in front of you. Just look up the statistics for babies killed in front passenger seats - these are accidents that happen over there, not over here.

        Still, I'm sure you have a really good reason for doing things this way around. Surely you do.... no one would be THAT dumb, right?

        (apologies for the anon posting - the /. login mechanism appears currently unable to cope with my (albeit somewhat strange) username....)

        • by lexsird (1208192) on Monday March 26, 2012 @08:36AM (#39473047)

          Well, here in the America, (you know, where the present and future are) we live large and thus dangerously. If you seen the size of the vehicles and the traffic here, you would understand. You would probably want more bags placed all around you, and you wouldn't care if they hurt you a little if they went off wrong. But instead, you would not want to live here, you would go home where things are nice and safe.

          We are born and bred to this madness; to us, it's mother's milk.

          So, my fine feathered friend, if you come to America, leave the pop-can with wheels at home. It may sip gas from a tea cup and be very practical there, but here with it, when you are screaming down an Interstate that goes through or around an major US city, at rush hour, doing 85 MPH to keep up with traffic, which at the moment are all semi-trucks that have you sewn in from all sides, front and back, you will need to clean the driver's seat when you pull over. If you come to America, drive an American car, made by Americans for American drivers and roads.

          It will make sense, trust me.

          (Or just make sure it's a convertible, embrace the madness, laugh and drive like a madman in the wind.)

      • by daem0n1x (748565) on Monday March 26, 2012 @07:29AM (#39472797)
        That's why I steer with my left knee while holding cell phone and a sandwich. It's hard to engage gears, but I'm training to push the clutch with my right foot.
    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:09PM (#39468843) Journal
      One hand holding a cognac, the other holding the girl...
      The chauffeur sits in the front and drives whatever way he wants.
    • Carlin ... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:11PM (#39468861)

      Now, a few basic points about driving. One of the first things they teach you in Driver's Ed is where to put your hands on the steering wheel. They tell you put 'em at ten o'clock and two o'clock. Never mind that. I put mine at 9:45 and 2:17. Gives me an extra half hour to get where I'm goin'.

      -George Carlin

    • by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:29PM (#39469031)

      Not bad, but I prefer to use one hand at 6 o'clock. I sometimes worry that it might lessen my control of the car a bit when compared to the classic 10 and 2, but it's the only position comfortable enough for a quick nap.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:58PM (#39469263)

      From what I observe, regardless of hand position most drivers are doing it wrong. Tailgating, cutting people off, never use turn signals, not accelerating before trying to merge on to a highway, running stop signs. I see almost all of this every day on the way to work, and it's only 17km. Hand position is the least of their problems.

      • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Monday March 26, 2012 @09:59AM (#39473685) Homepage Journal

        From what I observe, regardless of hand position most drivers are doing it wrong. Tailgating, cutting people off, never use turn signals, not accelerating before trying to merge on to a highway, running stop signs. I see almost all of this every day on the way to work, and it's only 17km. Hand position is the least of their problems.

        Agreed wholeheartedly. But i don't blame drivers at all -- I blame the idiots who gave them the plastic that says they can drive.

        I drive over 50Mm a year (that's 50 thousand km or about 30 thousand miles for the metric impaired) for work all over the province of Ontario up here in Canada, and there seems to be about 1/6 of drivers who are either clueless or distracted (head down fetching a CD, fixing hair in mirror, etc.) and about 5% who are genuine jerks with no thought to external consequences. I watched a small Honda cut in front of a full length transport truck with all his wheels down. One of us was smart enough to check how many wheels he had on the road and know he needed distance ... and one of us was in a rush and cut in front of him almost causing a jack-knife.

        I have no respect at all for complete idiots on the road endangering others -- and I'm a bit of an aggressive driver myself but I signal, I leave room, and I watch my mirrors to understand traffic flow behind me. I also only drive in the left lane when moving faster than those in the lanes to my right.

        The question is, why do we do road-side license suspensions (we do that in this province) for speeding when the guy eating soup while driving a truck is more of a hazard due to his inability to react to changes in the grid?

  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @04:59PM (#39468753)

    I let my wife drive. I need my hands to hold my beer.

  • Non-sense! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:00PM (#39468761)

    Didn't mythbusters disprove this finger myth years ago?

    • by stoofa (524247) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:08PM (#39468837)
      You don't believe in fingers? I guess that's what happens from watching Myth Busters with a ton of narcotics flowing through your veins. "Hey, I always knew there was no such thing as fingers," you told the giant purple amradillo while waving a blurry hand in front of your own knees.
    • by Squiddie (1942230)
      Only as far as the actual airbag explosion goes. It still might make your hand run into things, like the windscreen or the object coming through your windscreen.
  • 8 and 4 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:00PM (#39468763) Homepage Journal

    Is what most professional race drivers have done for decades, for several reasons.

    How many of s stick our elbow out the window and do a 9ish position 1/2 the time?

    • Re: 8 and 4 (Score:5, Funny)

      by maglor_83 (856254) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:06PM (#39468817)

      That would be quite uncomfortable in a right-hand drive car, so instead I have a 3ish position.

    • Re: 8 and 4 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by n5vb (587569) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:25PM (#39468987)

      8 and 4 is pretty much mandatory in F1 cars because that's the only position that puts your fingers in the right place to hit the clutch and shift paddles properly. On those, there's also usually no wheel between 10 and 2.

      I usually use left hand at about 8 or 9 with elbow on the windowsill, my right at about 5 with elbow on the armrest, or my knee at about 7 if I'm on a long stretch of empty highway. (For the narrow range of steering required at highway speeds, you'd be surprised how much control you have with just a knee.) Manual transmission, usually one hand on wheel at 9-ish and the other on the shift lever. Usually don't need much more torque on the wheel than that.

      But I've got about 500k+ miles under my belt, so i'm a little more casual than some other drivers..

      • by grumling (94709)

        Also, they wear a helmet in case the airbag does go off and fling their arms into their face.

        Belt and suspenders, that's the F1 way.

    • Re: 8 and 4 (Score:5, Informative)

      by headhot (137860) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @06:15PM (#39469369) Homepage

      Pro race drivers dont wrap their thumbs around the wheel. Nor do amateur ones like me. Race drivers have the risk of being in a collision that can snap the wheel around breaking your thumbs.

    • Re: 8 and 4 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @07:16PM (#39469855) Journal

      Is what most professional race drivers have done for decades, for several reasons.

      Professional racecar drivers let go of the steering wheel entirely when things go pear shaped,
      otherwise they might break their thumbs or wrists due to a sharp jerk of the steering wheel.
      This is the most recent example I can recall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K1CpII2yJM&t=77s [youtube.com]

  • How i drive (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:03PM (#39468787)

    I drive coaches, busses and cars...
    I personally hold my hands like this;

    Coach/Bus: Left hand on the money tray, RIght hand at 2
    Car: Left hand on gear stick (yes... in the real world we drive manuals...) and right hand at 2

    Driving with 2 hands on the wheel seems unnatural to me unless i'm flooring it... as I drive really relaxed...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Alworx (885008)

      Left hand on the gear stick? You sit facing backwards?!

      Oh, wait, you said "real world"... where roundabouts rotate clockwise... :-D

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Left hand on the gear stick? You sit facing backwards?!

        Oh, wait, you said "real world"... where roundabouts rotate clockwise... :-D

        English ...you notice he drives a "coach". Here in north America most drive with our left hand at 2 and our right hand either on the iPhone or on the stick between our legs if we have an automatic and the wife isn't next to use to work the stick instead. This is why most that have automatic transmissions also have a box of kleenex in the glove compartment.

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:03PM (#39468791)

    Left elbow out the window, steering wheel held by hanging thumb on steering wheel spoke. Right hand either: manipulating some text messaging device, hanging over back of bench seat or trying to slip up the skirt of some babe sitting next to me.

    Front seat passengers should place feet up on the dashboard immediately on top of passenger airbag deployment panel to ensure major foot/leg injuries in the event of deployment.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:04PM (#39468795) Homepage Journal

    My clocks have numbers, not hands.

  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:06PM (#39468813) Journal

    I had my hands at roughly 9 and 3 when it did; all I got from the airbag were some friction burns on my right arm and a good snort of stuff I'd have rather not breathed.

    Trying to specify any particular exact hand position given the variety of people, steering wheels, and driving positions seems pointless.

    And performance driving instructors have been advocating push-pull steering (rather than hand-over-hand) for a very long time. Not because of the airbag, but because it provides better control. Whether it makes a difference on the road or in the mall parking lot I doubt.

    • by mjwx (966435) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @09:23PM (#39470679)

      And performance driving instructors have been advocating push-pull steering (rather than hand-over-hand) for a very long time. Not because of the airbag, but because it provides better control. Whether it makes a difference on the road or in the mall parking lot I doubt.

      This,

      9/3 is not about airbags, people having a go at airbags in this thread have no clue as to their use, they're meant to stop your head from going into the wheel in the event of an impact, not provide 100% safety.

      Push-pull steering is a much better way to steer. You should never cross your arms when turning. To turn left, your right hand should drop to 4 or 5 and push the wheel up whilst your left hand goes up to 10 so it can pull the wheel down when the right hand reaches 2, your right hand then drops back to 4. Once you get the hang of this, it's very fast to go to full lock (1 and1/2 turns of the wheel).

  • I disable my airbag (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:06PM (#39468815)

    I sit so far back from the wheel that it would not do me any good anyway, and the collision threshold is typically set so low that the airbag actually presents a greater threat than is justifiable. In a low-speed collision where the car does not come to a stop, it might still be necessary to control the vehicle afterwards. If your arms have been blown off the steering wheel and possibly broken/severed by it, that's not possible, and can lead to secondary, even more injurious collisions.

    I know this because I was involved in just such a collision (with a deer) where the airbag caused me to lose control of my vehicle, and my arms were broken so badly I could not turn the wheel to avoid having a second, must worse collision (with a tree), which killed my wife and 4 year old son, and left me paralyzed from the waist down.

    They told me my son was killed instantly, and it took my wife 8 days to pass away in intensive care. I did not wake up from my coma until day 9. That was the worst day of my life.

  • by LifesABeach (234436) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:06PM (#39468821)
    Being without arms, and a right leg; I use my nose.
  • by Khashishi (775369) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:07PM (#39468823) Journal

    One hand at 8 or 4 o'clock, one hand around cell phone

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:08PM (#39468833)

    My friend says that everyone would drive a whole lot more safely if there was a huge, sharp metal spike on the steering wheel that was pointed toward the driver's chest. I think he might be right.

  • No hands (Score:4, Funny)

    by mkraft (200694) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:11PM (#39468859)

    Drive with your knees. It keeps your hands free for the important things like texting and eating.

  • Don't honk the horn (Score:4, Informative)

    by zapster (39411) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:14PM (#39468887)

    My wife was honking the horn as she hit a lady who had for some reason decided to stop while crossing a highway to tend her grandchild, at night, in the rain. Compound fracture of the arm was the result. Out of work for three months. Never honk the horn.

    • by jbwolfe (241413) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:43PM (#39469145) Homepage
      Sorry 'bout your wife's injury and I'm not directing this specifically at her as I don't know the circumstances. However, I've often wondered why folks who have enough time and anticipation to blow the horn don't use those mental resources to evade the collision in the first place- speaking strictly in those instances resulting in such. Horns are terribly overused and to me seem useful only in getting the attention of someone able to oblige. I would argue that the great majority of peers on the road are devoting 20% of their available mental resources to the task (driving) at hand, and that they should be allocating more like 80%. I find that drivers in Germany do an exemplary job of this, as well as abiding rules of the road and other drivers. The worst- China followed by America... (though I've not driven in any third world countries).
      • by eht (8912)

        He did indicate it was in the rain, possibly was skidding after applying the brake and honking was the only thing left to do as a warning that she was out of control.

    • This instruction can be generalized: don't lock any of your joints in extension against the car. A huge amount of suffering occurs from locking the leg in extension against the brake pedal. The dashboard will destroy the knee. Actually, locking your joints against any load is never a good idea.
  • by kawabago (551139) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:17PM (#39468897)
    My fingers still get crushed when I start moving.
  • by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:20PM (#39468941)

    For decades, the standard instruction was that drivers should hold the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 positions, as envisioned on a clock.

    What is with you Americans having to use these stupid units for everything? Is it that hard to say pi/6 and 5*pi/6 that everyone can understand?

  • by TheMiddleRoad (1153113) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:23PM (#39468967)

    They have their hands at 3 and 9 usually. That has the most control.

    Professional crashers (yes, they exist) put their hands up at the sides of their head.

    For the most control, you should sit close enough to the steering wheel that your shoulders remain against the seat. Sit upright, not leaning back. Make sure your legs are close enough that you can easily flatten the brake pedal to the floor.

    Shorter-armed drivers should be careful, though. Sitting too close to an airbag is bad. 10 inches to the sternum is the minimum safe distance. Most of us drive easily farther away than that.

  • by devnullkac (223246) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:23PM (#39468975) Homepage

    I always liked George Carlin's advice:

    They tell you put 'em at ten o'clock and two o'clock. Never mind that. I put mine at 9:45 and 2:17. Gives me an extra half hour to get where I'm goin'.

  • by digsbo (1292334) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:25PM (#39468989)
    Our driver's ed instructor about 20 years said 9 and 3, and specifically said NOT to follow the 10 and 2 advice. Good on him.
  • Mainly a US problem? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by uncle slacky (1125953) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:26PM (#39468995)
    I suspect that this is a bigger problem in the US than elsewhere, as their airbags have to be so much more powerful than (for example) European ones as the manufacturers can't assume that you're wearing a seatbelt (a legal requirement in most of the civilised world).
  • by pmontra (738736) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:52PM (#39469227) Homepage

    Italy 1987, getting the driving license: my instructor told me to drive with hands at 9-3 and position the seat so that I can touch the top of the wheel with my wrist.
    Italy 2004, a one day safe drive course: my driving instructor told me to drive with hands at 9-3.

    The rationale of 9-3 has nothing to do with airbags. It is that you can steer the wheel more and faster than if you start at 10-2 (basic physics). The rationale of being close to the wheel is that with flexed harms you have a stronger grip than if your harms are fully stretched (basic physics again). But if you get too close you can't steer it much anyway, so touching it with the wrist gives a kind of optimal position.

    Customary joke from Europe: maybe the 10-2 position is optimal for racing on ovals ;-)

    • I think 10/2 came from back in the days before power steering where you maybe got a little bit more leverage as you turned the wheel. WIth 9/3 spacing, you get maximum leverage right a way, but then it decreases every degree you turn after, so you have to reposition your hands sooner.

      This is not really important now that every car has power steering, though. And shouldn't be important at speeds over 30mph anyway.

  • by jbwolfe (241413) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @06:33PM (#39469527) Homepage
    however, we might first want to get most drivers to put the other hand on the wheel for a start, then worry about where o'clock they put them...
  • Here they disregard not only hand positions. They also disregard turn signals, turn lanes, stop signs, stop lights, speed limits, weather conditions, following distances, and the laws of physics in general.

    For example, last week someone in the right hand lane attempted to make a left-handed U-turn while I was driving past them in the left hand lane. They were on their way to buy cigarettes - had they hit me (as they quite nearly did) I would have spared them dying of lung cancer and bludgeoned them to death in the road.
  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @06:50PM (#39469665)

    We drive 10 to 2 because that's what Drivers Ed taught us. Its your responsibility to make sure the safety systems are designed properly.

    Not our responsibility to adopt unusual or uncomfortable driving positions, because you can't be assed to find good designs for safety systems.

    Air Bags suck, ban them, and mandate something safer.

    Make the common way of driving safe.

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