For decades, drivers were instructed to hold the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. Safer cars, however, render previous convention dangerous. New guidelines, including those issued by AAA and many state transportation agencies, instruct drivers to lightly grip the steering wheel at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions in order to minimize injuries caused by a deploying airbag. Meaning, the higher up the wheel your hands are, the more likely they are to be directly over the plastic cover as it opens during a car accident. Potential injuries from improper hand placement when an airbag deploys are amputations of fingers or hands, traumatic fractures, and even broken noses or concussions via the bag slamming your hands into your head.
While you may be tempted to further avoid the mechanism by gripping at 8 and 4, some research on various hand positions suggest this may lessen your control of the car. Ergonomics research suggests “parallel position” makes for safer driving in general by lowering the body’s center of gravity and reducing excessive steering wheel movement.
The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association advises:
Place both hands outside of the steering wheel on opposite sides.
Keep your grip firm, yet gentle.
Use your fingers, not palms, and keep thumbs up along the face of the steering wheel.
Never turn the wheel while gripping it from the inside of its rim.