steering wheel

Experts say that drivers need to hold the steering wheel at the “9 and 3” positions on a clock, in order to avoid serious and gruesome injuries if the airbag deploys. For decades, drivers were taught to hold the wheel at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. But that advice has changed because of airbag modules mounted in the steering column.

As M. Alex Johnson writes on

Among the injuries the NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] reports from improper placement of the hands when an airbag deploys are amputations of fingers or entire hands, traumatic fractures and a particularly stomach-churning injury called ‘degloving,’ which — trust us — you definitely don’t want to look up.

AAA says the bags can also slam your hands directly into your head, causing broken noses and concussions.

‘If the bag is going to go, it’s going to take my hand and put it into my face — either one of my hands,’ Bob Hendrickson, head of AAA’s network of driving schools in central Indiana, told NBC station WTHR of Indianapolis.

AAA suggests drivers stop using the “hand over hand” way of turning the wheel, but instead push with one hand and pull with the other, reports, meaning, push the wheel up with one hand and pull it down with the other, without crossing over. Johnson writes that State Farm’s auto insurance division’s guidelines for beginning drivers elaborates:

Hand-over-hand maneuvers during turning should be avoided to prevent arms from being in front of a deploying airbag in the event of a crash. Serious injuries may result during such occurrences.

Some experts believe a driver can prevent the risk of injuries even more by switching to an 8 and 4 o’clock hand position on the wheel; however the formal research on the topic suggests that an 8 and 4 position could lessen a driver’s control of the vehicle, according to Johnson’s article.

As Johnson explains in regard to the incorporation of steering column airbag modules that are designed to protect a driver’s head and chest: “That means the higher up the wheel your hands are, the more likely they are to be directly over the plastic cover when it opens — that is, when superhot nitrogen gas flashes and inflates the bag at 150 to 250 mph.”

The 9 and 3 position on the steering wheel is being referred to as “parallel position,” and experts say it makes for safer driving in general, as Johnson reports:

Parallel position ‘improves stability by lowering the body’s center of gravity and reduces unintended and excessive steering wheel movement which is a primary cause of young driver fatalities,’ the Texas Department of Public Safety says in guidelines for new drivers (.pdf).

Image by NJ Department of Transportation, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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