Car Advice

Myth-Busting: Holding the steering wheel at 10-2 is the right way?

Older drivers might claim that holding the steering wheel at 10-2 is the right way to go. But, is it?

THIS IS A QUICK myth to bust. See, airbags have changed everything. Back before airbags, it was acceptable to hold onto the steering wheel at 10-2 with most locking their thumbs around the steering wheel.

Back before the 1990s, most driving instructors drilled their students to grip the wheel at 10-2, but the arrival of airbags has made this a dangerous hand position. See, when an airbag deploys, if you’re hands are towards the top of the wheel at 10-2 with your thumbs looped around the steering wheel rim, then the force could potentially force your hands into your face or break your thumbs.

It’s now recommended to hold the steering wheel at 9-3 with your thumbs placed upwards along the steering wheel rim rather than looped around it. This way a deploying airbag can inflate without making dangerous contact with your hands. An airbag deploys at around 320km/h and there’s just no way you can move your hands quick enough to beat that, so hold the steering wheel at 9-3 and avoid the risk.

Four-wheel drivers already know about this, but not because of airbag deployment reasons. Say you’re off-roading and hit a rock and the steering wheel yanks to one side. If your thumb is locked around the steering wheel rim the wrench could break your thumbs or dislocate them, so, as Yule Brynner said about smoking, ‘…just don’t…’

Beyond safety of your thumbs, holding the steering wheel at 9-3 with your thumbs laying up along the steering wheel gives you the best car control possible.


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A.H. Bloom
A.H. Bloom
5 months ago

While I am completely in agreement with the 3-9 hand position being the optimum hand position for a driver’s vehicle control, I have been researching and investigating the “10-2” account for nearly 4 years. I have spoken to medical people, engineers, crash reconstructionists, etc., in the USA, Europe, Canada, and Australia.

To date, NO ONE can find or show ANY statistics, research, case studies, etc., to validate the concept that 10-2 is more inherent to causing airbag-related injuries any more than 3-9. In fact, watching a video of airbag deployments strongly suggest that the hands at 10-2 are not directed towards the face; at best, with a very high 11-1 position, they would tend to be pushed to the sides of the head.

If I do get someone to defend the 10-2 notion, the typical responses fall along the lines of “well, it’s obvious” or “well, everyone knows that.” Even higher ranking groups and agencies defer to “someone else” that supplied that information to them some time ago. As I follow that chain, I get a similar response.

In Europe, many schools still teach 10-2 as being acceptable from a safety standpoint.

The best any of my contacts within the various fields have been able to come up with is that the 10-2 notion may have originated when airbags first came out, and the popular thought was that “airbags prevent injuries.” From any hand position, we now know that airbag deployment can cause abrasions and hand injuries, particularly if the wheel is held too tightly; by intent or by panic stress.

I was able to locate a handful of medical reports that attempted to attribute serious breaks and avulsions to improper hand positioning – however, with closer scrutiny, one found that the drivers typically had their hands over the center portion of the wheel – over top of the airbag deployment area. Any that involved arm/face contact could not be definitively put as the driver being at a 10-2 hand position vs the arms being across the bag at deployment during an attempted evasive turning maneuver.

If you, or anyone else, may have access to any conflicting studies, research, statistics, and so forth that would support the 10-2 prohibition notion, I would seriously like to gain access to it! Please post the link or source in subsequent comments. But until such time, the past 4 years seems to strongly imply that the real Urban Myth here is that 10-2 steering wheel grip is more hazardous than 3-9 from a safety standpoint.

Last edited 5 months ago by A.H. Bloom
Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober