Forget everything you know about 10 and 2.
You know you’ve heard it a hundred times. “Keep both hands on the wheel. 10 and 2.” You’ve probably even drilled this into your kids’ heads as you’ve taught them to drive. But according to the professionals, this is not the correct driving position.
But where your hands are placed is only a small part of correct driving position and driving safety.
Learn Correct Driving Position from the Pros
Pro race car drivers, that is.
Fiat recently invited several automotive journalists out for a day on the track at the Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, TX. Here we got to experience the 2019 Fiat 500 Abarth and Fiat 124 Spider Abarth on the track. But before we were set loose on the track with some pretty fast and capable cars, we were treated to classroom time, and skidpad and autocross training, with professional drivers from the Skip Barber Racing School.
During our classroom session, one of the instructors gave a demonstration on the correct driving position that left me wondering how many people had been taught incorrectly as I was? Could it be that most of us are sitting too far back, or too close to the wheel?
Learning where to sit, where to put my hands, and how to “feel” the car, thanks to my back being pressed firmly in the seat, made such a difference on the track that I just had to share what I learned with you.
Key Takeaways from Skip Barber Racing School
- most of us sit too far away from the steering wheel
- we’ve been taught to keep our hands at 10 and 2, not 9 and 3
- our legs should still be bent when the car’s pedals are fully depressed
- our backs belong firmly in the seat so we can feel whether the car is slipping or not
How Close Should You Sit to the Steering Wheel?
Probably closer than you think. See, we’re taught that it’s dangerous to sit too close to the wheel… airbags can deploy and hit you in the face, or you could hit your head or chest on the steering wheel. Turns out, while either scenario would be painful, neither would be as bad as not being able to fully depress both pedals.
To start with, sit all the way back in your seat and slide it forward until you can fully depress both pedals without fully straightening your leg. Again, your leg should not be entirely straight or locked. It should still be slightly bent.
If you feel you are sitting way too close to the wheel, you can test your distance by extending one arm straight in front of you to touch the top center (12:00 position) of the steering wheel. Your wrist should rest on top of the wheel. If your wrist is too far past, recline the back of your seat until your wrist rests on the wheel. If your wrist doesn’t reach, straighten your seat back until it does.
Now that you are seated in the correct position, look for a place to rest your left foot. If you are driving a manual you will use your left foot often for the clutch, but when it is not in use, you can use your left foot to keep your body pressed into your seat. A lot of cars have an angled place for your foot. This is called a “dead pedal” and is made for this purpose.
If Not 10 and 2, Then What Is the Correct Driving Position For Your Hands?
9 and 3.
Think about this for a moment. If both of your hands are to stay on the wheel at all times, and you need to make a large correction (think 180 degrees) can you turn the wheel halfway around without taking either hand off the wheel?
Try it. Put your arms out in front of you at 10 and 2. Try rotating till your hands are at 4 and 8. Feeling a little tied up? Now, what if your arms were completely straight because you were too far from the wheel, to begin with? You wouldn’t make it to 4 and 8.
Now try 9 and 3. Easier, huh? And if you’re sitting the correct distance from the wheel so that your arms are bent slightly in that position, you have plenty of room to rotate the wheel until your hands are opposite each other again at 3 and 9.
No Slouching or Leaning Forward When You Drive
We know. It’s tempting to relax recline a bit while driving. Or to lean forward to see better when you’re not in the correct position. But both of these positions are discouraged.
If you are seated properly, nice and straight, with your back pressed into the seat-back, you will be able to feel the car.
Yes, most people think you feel the car through the pedals and steering, but you can also feel it through your back. In fact, it’s the first place you’ll notice something is off when you start to slide or hydroplane.
We got to experience this during skidpad training where we purposefully drove fast in tight circles on a wet skid pad until we started to experience understeer. Then again, as we purposefully accelerated rapidly to create oversteer. The back feels the slip, way before the hands and feet do.
Correct Driving Position Could Save Your Life
The sooner you can feel your car slipping, the sooner you can make corrections. And, if you’re seated in the right position with your hands at 9 and 3, you’ll be able to make those corrections without taking a hand off the wheel. This means you have more control over your car and you and your passengers are safer.
I’ve been driving for over 20 years and I feel like I’m still learning so much about cars and safety. I’m grateful that I haven’t truly needed any of these skills in the past 20 years but glad to have them for the future.
Disclosure: I was a guest of FCA for a day at the track with Fiat models and professional drivers and instructors from the Skip Barber Racing School. When the event was complete I was awarded a certificate congratulating me on graduating from the Skip Barber Racing School. All opinions are my own.
A huge shout of thanks to my local FCA dealership, James Hodge Dodge in Paris, TX for letting me use one of their 2019 Challengers to illustrate this post, and to my friend, Morgan Berry for being my photographer.