For decades, those of us who took Driver’s Ed were taught that the proper position for best and safe driving was to have your hands at “10 and 2” – the positions on the steering wheel corresponding to 10am and 2pm on a standard clock (you probably already knew that).
But driving recommendations are changing now. Safety authorities like NHTSA (the National Highway Safety Administration) are recommending a move away from the traditional 10-and-2 to a new hand position change, 9-and-3. Police departments and national car clubs like AAA have also ditched the old way in favor of the new.
For parents who are raised on the old way, this is surprising. Driving instructors talk about getting irate calls from parents who find out their newly minted teenage drivers are being told there’s some new-fangled way.
Watch Out For Speeding Airbags
The biggest reason for the change is a safety issue. Airbags are pretty much standard equipment these days. Being located in the center of the steering wheel, when they are engaged, they use nitrogen gas to inflate the bag at speeds of 150-200 mph.
The traditional 10-and-2 steering wheel hand position put the hands and arms more directly in the way of the speeding air bag. And make no mistake, this can be bad news for the driver. The air bag is designed to keep you alive and they do a great job in that respect. But having the hands in the wrong position will cause the speeding air bag to push them up and into your chest and head area.
Injuries reported from these kinds of incidents range from broken glasses and facial lacerations to broken noses, fingers, hands, and a more stomach-churning kind of “degloving”. Don’t look it up, just trust us, you don’t want it to happen to you.
Avoiding broken bones is a great objective, but the new recommendations also stem from the need for better control.
10-and-2 came into vogue in the past because steering wheels were much larger than they are today. You needed the 10-and-2 hand position to safely make turns. A higher grip on the larger wheel enabled the driver to react better if they were cut off or have to navigate a sudden road hazard.
Today’s steering wheels and steering columns are a lot smaller. You can just as easily make the safest and most effective turns using a 9-and-3 hand position.
AAA recommends 9-and-3 for senior drivers because it enables the drivers to turn the wheel better without removing the hands from the steering wheel, as well as giving better awareness of where the wheels are and how to straighten them.
So trust us on this point. 9-and-3 is the new best way to go.
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This post was published on April 28, 2015 and was updated on August 2, 2022.