- A driver sustains multiple fractures of the forearms and wrists driving her car with both hands over the airbag cover in a collision.
- Two MN state troopers sustained fractured thumbs while resting their thumbs over the center airbag cover
- A wedding ring of a female's left hand causes a large facial laceration just above the left eye while driving her vehicle with the left hand on top of the wheel.
Think back to when you took drivers education in high school.
- Did the instructor teach you to hold the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o'clock positions?
- Did he teach you to use the hand over hand method for turning?
- Do you steer your vehicle with one hand on top of the wheel?
Back to the Basics?
Every car, SUV and light duty truck must come equipped with a driver and passenger airbag (see www.safercars.org). They are designed by engineers to save both the unbelted and the belted occupant. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.highwaysafety.org) reports nearly 18,000 lives have been saved from airbags. Maximum effectiveness from the supplemental restraint airbag is accomplished by wearing your seatbelt. Seatbelts properly position the body during precrash braking, resulting in proper body position for airbag deployment.
Unbelted occupants are much more at risk from a deploying airbag injury. If a driver brakes a vehicle before it crashes, unbelted occupants in the front seat are likely to continue to move forward, closer to the airbag when it deploys. If the crash is complicated, with minor impacts before the airbag is deployed by a more significant impact, the same thing may happen. It is not suprizing that most airbag related fatalities were unbelted occupants and children. Airbags deploy at 100-200 mph in fractions of a second. Airbags are lubricated with cornstarch or talc powder. Wearing your seatbelt allows you to ride out the deploying forces of the supplemental airbag. Airbags do cause some injuries; however, a majority of the injuries are primarily minor injuries to the face, arms and the hands.
How to Hold the Steering Wheel
Several years ago, I took a performance driving class with professional driving instructors. Instructors were teaching law enforcement officers to drive their patrol vehicles with their hands at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions, not the 10 and 2. My thumbs were not to be locked inside the wheel, but rather kept on the outer ring of the wheel. While driving the vehicle around the driving course, I was instructed to smoothly shuffle steer (use the push-pull technique) the vehicle and not to do the hand over hand whenever possible.
Mitch Becker, Technical Consultant with ABRA Auto Body & Glass, teaches airbag and automotive safety designs to a number of automobile, I-CAR, and insurance groups. Mitch says that since the airbag deploys out of the center of the wheel, driving the vehicle with the hands or arms over the airbag would result in forearm injuries and injuries to the face. Changing the hands to the 9 and 3 would allow the driver to flex and bend at the elbow joint, allowing the driver's upper body position to sit with a minimum 10 inches between the airbag and the center of the chest (sternum). This is particularly beneficial to shorter drivers, drivers of larger size, and pregnant persons, thus allowing the driver to sit back as far as possible from the drivers' airbag.
The Hand Position Story
KMSP-TV Fox Channel 9, Reporter Jeff Ballion from in Minneapolis, became interested in airbag safety. Jeff indicated many drivers were unaware of the "new driving hand position." We decided to put the 9 and 3 hand position to a demonstration. Jeff and his camera crew met Mitch and me at John's Auto Parts in Blaine. We selected a 1992 Ford Taurus wagon and placed a Rescue Randy firefighting mannequin behind the steering wheel airbag. We painted the forearms orange and the thumb blue to illustrate the contact points with the thumbs in the contrast color.