Trivia 060: Back to driver’s ed

The other night as I was driving home from work, my mind decided to bring up an old memory for some reason. I’m not too sure what brought it about, but you know how it is. I remembered being back in high school when my friends and I were learning how to drive. At one point I was in the car with a friend. He was driving, and his mom was sitting in the passenger seat. She kept critiquing his driving – he was going too slow, going too fast, too close to the car in front, too far from the car in front. Eventually, she just said “Pull over, I’ll drive from here.” She also told us both that you can’t be a real man unless you know how to drive a manual. Honestly, kudos to my friend for taking it all without arguing. By the way, I don’t think either of them read this, but if they do, well, you know who you are.

But one of her complaints was rather interesting. She told him that he wasn’t keeping his hands at the right position. “Ten and two,” she reminded him. To which he responded “They told us in driving school that that’s not where you should put your hands.” This interaction is something which I have thought on repeatedly throughout the years, often when I am driving. But in all that time, I’ve never thought to look up who was right. UNTIL NOW.

As it turns out, my friend was right. “Ten and two” used to be the recommended position for drivers to keep thEeir hands on the steering wheel. This allowed them to have maximum leverage when turning the wheel, but maintain a comfortable position. This was particularly important before the development of power steering. Before the 1950s, in order to turn a car, you had to supply all the necessary force via the steering wheel. However, with the development of power steering, hydraulic or electric systems are now able to take the driver’s input from the wheel and convert it into the necessary movement of the wheels.

These recommendations were maintained well into the 1970’s. However, in the 1980’s another major shift happened in car manufacturing – the development of airbags. Nowadays, it’s assumed that every vehicle will come equipped with these lifesaving devices. But, as is often the case, car manufacturers spent years attempting to lobby against such developments, just like they did against seatbelts and collapsible steering columns. Despite knowing that these technologies would save literally tens of thousands of lives each year, because they cost more, the car companies would rather spend money on lobbying and advertising blaming poor drivers for fatal collisions. (By the way, this is also the reason “jaywalking is a term”).

However, by the 1990’s, most cars had some form of airbag, and in 1998, airbags became mandatory in all new vehicles in the United States. With this development came a change in the classic “ten and two” rule. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now recommends that drivers keep their hands parallel, i.e. “nine and three”, or even slightly below the halfway point, “eight and four”. This is because if the airbag goes off, your arms will not fly up into your face, potentially injuring you. And with power steering now normal in cars, you do not need the extra leverage holding your hands higher on the wheel provides.

So remember: keep your eyes on the road, hands at nine and three, and don’t ever trust a car company to do the right thing unless it is profitable.

With this, I am finally caught up again. Until I need to write next week’s trivia. The end is never the end.

If you know anyone who would like to receive these, please have them send an email to [email protected]. And if you’re actually a really great driver and don’t need my advice, let me know and I can take you off the list.

Leave a Reply