Twelve By Any Other Number

It’s been common knowledge since parents first took their young dudes and dudettes out to teach them how to drive.

You should always drive with your hands on the steering wheel at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position. That is, hold your left hand slightly to the left of the top of the steering wheel and your right hand slightly to the right of center.

Apparently, that is no longer the case. And it’s all down to something that was designed to make us safer in the car. Unfortunately, that thing to make us safer can now use our handy position on the steering wheel to cause us more damage than we’d get if our hands weren’t even on the wheel. Although that last might make it a bit more likely that we’d have an accident.

Yeah, it’s the airbag. Turns out, when you have an accident, that triggers the airbag compressed within the steering column. The airbag bursts forth from the exact center of the steering wheel, inflates quickly and cushions you against hitting the steering wheel.

The problem comes in that, if your hands are at 10 and 2, the airbag has a very good chance of blowing your fists through your eye holes. In a manner of speaking.

Not only that, but the advice on where to put your hands was concocted long before power steering became standard on almost every car made around the world. Now, the mixture of those two things is causing insurance agencies like AAA to recommend you not use the 10 and 2 position.

AAA Manager of Driver Training Operations William Van Tassel, PhD, explains in the video below that “10 and 2″ dates from the era before power steering. Turning the wheel required more force then, and pulling down on it was the easiest way to do it.

But easy-to-turn wheels and airbags have changed the logic. If the driver’s hands are at the top of the wheel when the wheel-mounted airbag deploys, they are likely to be knocked into his face. If they are at the bottom of the wheel, they will be sent sideways, and do no further damage.

The better hand positions, Tassel says, are 9 and 3 or 8 and 4, where they are out of the way and still in control.

Well, that’s moved us into the 20th century. If only we’d hurry up and get some flying cars around so we could move into the current — 21st — century.

The only question now is will we as parents be able to remember the new advice when it comes time for us to be the latest sacrificial lambs to take a fledgling dude or dudette out onto the road and begin our reacquaintance with appalling fear and the prayer such engenders?

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