NHTSA Gives Very Poor Advice on Safe Steering for Drivers

On 4 October, 2017, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a link on Facebook, leading back to a California DMV web page on the subject of supposedly safe steering, which was based on guidelines from NHTSA itself.

Sadly, however, it is fairly clear that America has never had a systemic hierarchy in relation to good, safe driving methodology… something that the nation’s grossly-inadequate and often even inappropriate standard of driving tests illustrates all too well.  Even American law enforcement departments — limited almost entirely to private-track “dynamics” driver training — have too few skills and too little knowledge for safe driving when, in fact, they should be setting the highest-possible example for the task.

Photograph of Eddie Wren using the correct "ten-to-two" position for his hands on the steering wheel, and with thumbs on the wheel's rim.
Eddie Wren, chief instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America, using the safest steering technique — “10 & 2” — with thumbs on the wheel rim. (Copyright image.)

Here are some key points on truly safer steering, based on a (the?) world-leading driver safety system that dates back over an astonishing 82 years of refinement and fine-tuning:

  1. A fundamental and very basic principle:  It is far better to avoid getting into a crash than to worry about damage limitation — in this case, hurt arms — after the crash!
  2. Best steering control comes from holding the wheel at “10 & 2,” but for people of shorter stature “9 & 3” is acceptable.
  3. The main risk of arm (and facial) injuries from the driver’s airbag in the event of a crash comes not from holding the wheel at “10 & 2” but from the endemic American technique of using “hand-over” or “rotational” steering rather than the much safer “pull-push” method, which also has the advantage of easier smoothness and — more importantly — of keeping both hands on the wheel rim at all times.  The American method involves drivers in repeatedly “crossing their arms” over the airbag, which is very obviously by far the worst danger in this context.
  4. The “8 & 4” approach, which is meant to prevent airbag-related injuries was a mere ill-informed, knee-jerk guess at a solution by people who claim to be safe driving experts but in reality have very limited knowledge.  Sadly, this is far from unusual here in the USA!  For details on why the “8 & 4” approach — or any other fixed hand-position — is largely irrelevant in the context of airbag injuries, watch this video clip about a red light crash in Ohio, and see which comes first: the swerve or the braking.
  5. Thus, safer steering — which helps to avoid crashes in the first place — is a wiser and more effective approach than the “8 & 4” method.  (Question: If “8 & 4” is an acceptable and effective method of good steering, why was it never a recommended technique before the advent of airbags?)
  6. The reasons given on the California page into the occasional use of rotational steering, while not entirely incorrect, were weak to say the least. (Oh, and pull-push can be used at much less than 1 mph — no exaggeration — so “slow speeds” is certainly not a good reason.  Teaching pull-push as being THE method would also prevent one other endemic U.S. failing, namely “dry steering.”)

It has become woefully very clear that the USA is depending almost solely on higher levels of technology to reduce its excessively high rates of road deaths, including the progress towards autonomous vehicles, but if America — frankly — were to swallow its pride and learn from countries that perform dramatically better at road & highway safety, many thousands of American lives could be saved each year, until the age of entirely autonomous transportation can indeed save us from ourselves.  But that won’t be anytime soon.

In the meantime, using proven safer steering techniques, rather than promoting old wives’ tales about “8 & 4,” would definitely help.


The qualifications and experience of the writer of this post are given here.

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

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