How to Steer Your Car

Three Methods:Holding the Steering Wheel CorrectlyChanging DirectionsEnsuring a Safer Drive

Hollywood images are full of horrible demonstrations of how to steer a car. No doubt this is because safe steering techniques are visually less dramatic. Keeping both hands on the wheel and keeping both eyes on the road are two key components of safe steering.

Method 1
Holding the Steering Wheel Correctly

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    Hold the wheel with both hands. Be ready to negotiate split-second emergencies. Maintain as much control as possible over the car at all times. If your car has a manual transmission, shift gears when needed, but do not keep a needless grip on the gearshift afterward. Instead, return your hand to the steering wheel immediately.[1]
    • Turning on your windshield wipers, headlights, and turning signals also require you to remove one hand from the wheel.[2] But these controls are typically located close to the steering wheel to minimize the time spent driving one-handed.
    • Reversing the car is an exception to this rule.
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    Keep your grip firm. Resist the urge to slacken your grip on the wheel. At the same time, be careful not to clench the wheel too tensely. This can tire your arms out and possibly obscure warning signs that reverberate through the steering wheel.[3]
    • ”Feeling” the car through the steering wheel is another important reason to steer with both hands.
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    Hold the wheel at at "10-and-2" or "9-and-3." Picture the steering wheel as an old-fashioned clock with 12 o’clock as the apex of the wheel. With your left hand, hold the wheel at either 9 or 10 o’clock. Then hold the other side at either 3 or 2 o’clock with your right.[4]
    • 10-and-2 is better suited for older cars or any others with larger steering wheels and no power steering.
    • 9-and-3 has become the new norm for modern cars equipped with power steering, smaller steering wheels, and airbags.
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    Mind your thumbs. While driving on paved roads, hold the wheel with your thumbs hooked around the steering wheel. If you turn off-road, remove your thumbs. Place them along the steering wheel's rim, as if you were giving two thumbs-up.[5]
    • Hooking your thumbs under the rim while driving off-road may set you up for injury. Your tires could strike obstacles hard enough to jolt the steering wheel in your hand.[6]
    • If you are driving on a paved road with your hands at 9-and-3, nestle your thumbs along the wheel's spokes where they meet the rim.

Method 2
Changing Directions

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    Start with the push-and-pull technique. Pull the steering wheel down in the direction that you wish to turn (for left turns, pull with your left hand, and vice versa). As you pull the steering wheel down, relax your other hand. Bring it down along the wheel to meet your “pulling” hand above your crotch. When they meet, relax your “pulling” hand and let your other hand take over. Push the steering wheel up until the turn has been executed.[7]
    • When you are first learning how to drive, start with this technique to make turns, since it is a cinch to master.[8]
    • Favor this technique while driving off-road or in dense areas with frequent sharp turns and heavy traffic. Doing so will give your hands freer access to such tools as your gearshift and turn signals.
    • Also favor this technique with larger steering wheels and/or in cars without power steering.
    • Push-and-pull is also referred to as the “shuffle” technique.
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    Move on to rotational steering. Turn the wheel in the direction you wish to turn your vehicle. Maintain a 9-and-3 or 10-and-2 grip on the wheel as you do so. If you need to turn the wheel more than 90 degrees to finish your turn, relax whichever hand is now directly above your crotch and keep it there. Continue to turn the wheel with your “top” hand until it meets your “bottom” hand above your crotch. At that point, bring your “bottom” hand up to the top of the wheel. Continue pulling the wheel down to complete the car’s turn.[9]
    • Use this technique for slight changes in direction, such as changing lanes.
    • Favor this technique when driving highways or other open roads at higher speeds.
    • Rotational steering is sometimes referred to as fixed-input steering.
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    Master steering in reverse. Check all of your mirrors to make sure the rear of the car is free of people and obstacles. Place one arm around the back of the side-passenger seat. Twist your upper torso in that direction by 90 degrees for a better view through the rear window. Grip the steering wheel at roughly 12 o’clock with your other hand. To back the car up to its right, turn the steering wheel to its right, and vice versa.[10]
    • Keep in mind that you will have a limited view of the driver’s side of the car while in this position.
    • If possible, allow the car to roll backwards under its own momentum. If gas is needed, only apply a little pressure on the pedal at a time. Avoid backing up too fast.
    • Do not rely on mirrors or rearview cameras alone to steer in reverse.

Method 3
Ensuring a Safer Drive

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    Adjust your seat and steering column properly. Fix their relative height and distance so that you can sit comfortably. Don’t set your seat so far back that you have to lean forward to grip the steering wheel. Avoid placing undue stress on your body, which may tire you out and distract you, making you less responsive.[11]
    • The positioning of your seat may effect which grip you find more comfortable: 9-and-3 or 10-and-2. Taller people, for instance, may find 10-and-2 most comfortable, due to the limits of how much they can adjust either the steering column or their seat.
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    Look farther down the road. Extend your sights at least a half-mile to a mile farther up the road. Keep your eyes peeled for any curves, hazards, or other factors that may necessitate a change in direction. Anticipate when you need to turn early on. Give yourself as much time as possible to plan and execute changes in direction.[12]
    • If you are passing through a tight curve that significantly reduces your field of vision, always focus on the farthest point that you can see ahead of you.
    • Trust your peripheral vision to alert you to sudden changes that appear closer to hand.
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    Factor in your speed when steering. Anticipate that a change in direction at slow speed will require greater physical effort with the steering wheel. Be prepared to turn it by a greater number of degrees in low-speed areas like parking lots, residential streets, and urban neighborhoods. Conversely, keep your turning actions with the wheel very, very slight when driving fast. Expect a slight turn of the wheel to cause a very pronounced change of direction on high-speed roads like highways.[13]
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    Keep “dry steering” to a minimum. Turning the steering wheel when the car is parked or otherwise at rest can have adverse effects on your tires and power-steering. Do so when necessary, such as when you parallel-park or execute a K-turn. Otherwise, try to avoid it.[14]
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    Practice safe one-handed steering. Maintain optimum control over the vehicle while using tools other than the steering wheel. Use your nearest hand to operate such functions as turn signals and gear shifts while driving. Keep your other hand where it is as you do so. Don’t risk letting go of the wheel to alter its position.[15]


  • Do not grip the wheel from underneath the rim so that your palms face you. This creates an awkward range of motion for your arms and thus reduces your ability to control the car.[16]
  • Do not let go of the steering wheel so it can spin back to its original position after a turn.[17] You lose control over the car in these precious seconds, and the wheel’s original position may no longer be “straight ahead” if your car’s alignment is off.

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Categories: Driving Basics