How to Hold the Steering Wheel; Keep Those Hands at 9 and 3

When you get behind the wheel of your vehicle, are you a hooker?

No, it’s not what you think!

A hooker is someone who hooks his hand up under the top of the steering wheel, like in the photo above. This is a bad habit to get into because it severely limits your range of motion and steering control, allowing you to move the steering wheel only a quarter of a turn in one direction.

For example, with your right hand hooked on the steering wheel, you’ll only be able to turn the wheel 90 degrees to the left. And if you’re hooking with your left hand, you’ll only be able to turn it 90 degrees to the right. Either way, you’ll be in trouble if you have to make a sudden, unexpected maneuver.

While limited range of motion behind the wheel is not a goal that any of us want to strive for, there’s an even better reason why you don’t want to be a hooker, and it has to do with what’s inside the steering wheel of every car sold in the U.S. since 1998: an air bag.

What does an airbag do in an accident? In one-twentieth of a second, it explodes out of the steering wheel at 200 miles per hour to keep your head from hitting the steering wheel or windshield. Just how powerful are airbags? Here’s an unusual demonstration of the punch they pack.

If you’re hooking the steering wheel when the airbag goes off, there’s a good chance it will break your wrist or forearm and smash your hand into your face, resulting in even more injuries.

10 and 2 is Now Taboo

In addition to not hooking the wheel, you should also consider where you place your hands on the steering wheel. If you learned to drive in the pre-airbag era, you were likely taught how to hold the steering wheel with your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel “clock.” But with that loaded bomb inside the wheel, the recommended steering wheel grip is now 9 and 3, with your thumbs resting on the rim instead of wrapping around it.

In addition to keeping your hands and wrists out of harm’s way if the airbag deploys, the 9 and 3 hand position also enables better control of the vehicle because it allows you to turn the wheel nearly 180 degrees in either direction without having to change your hand position on the steering wheel and do hand over hand steering.

Professional race car drivers keep their hands at 9 and 3 because it enables them to make quick corrections and gives them good reference to where the car is headed in relation to their steering inputs. And it’s a safe assumption to say that they never hook the steering wheel.