If you’ve been alive long enough, you were probably taught to hold the steering wheel (with both hands) at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions. For those unfamiliar with the analog clock face, those are the positions slightly above the horizontal spokes of the steering wheel, where you’ll usually find the thumb grip lumps.
This 10 & 2 o’clock position is still fine with older cars which aren’t equipped with power steering because it provided leverage to turn these cars; cars without power steering likely will also not come with Supplementary Restraint Systems aka airbags. But with modern cars, this isn’t the ideal position. This is largely because of the airbag which poses a risk to hands and fingers in the event of an airbag deployment.
The higher position of your hands in the old-fashioned driving position means your hands are directly over the steering wheel cover that blows open in the event of a collision. In severe cases, amputation of fingers or hands could happen.
And if you prefer the ‘one hand on 12 o’clock and the other hand doing something else’ position, do bear in mind that an airbag deploys at speeds up to 186 km/h and will send that hand on the top of the steering wheel flying into your head fairly quickly. The results will be similar when performing a turn using the ‘underhand’ grip style which also puts your hand between the airbag and your face. Holding the wheel at the lower half is also not advisable as this retards your reaction time.
So for modern cars equipped with airbags, the ideal places for your hands are just a little bit lower at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions, preferably with your thumbs resting on the rim rather than gripping it. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) recommends this position as it provides “180 degree steering input without removing your hands from the wheel” as well as “a high level of arm leverage and vehicle control”.