New-Car Safety Devices May Mean Your
Driving Habits Are Out of Date
Most drivers assume they know all they need to about handling a car, but automotive advancements in steering and stopping mean the skills of many drivers are out of date. "The design of cars has changed, so your driving habits have to change," said Charles Butler, director of AAA Driver Safety Services.
When the driver's seat was considerably higher than it is in today's passenger vehicles, the proper position of the driver's hands on the wheel was 10 and 2 o'clock. With today's lower seat position and the advent of airbags, drivers need to move their hands lower on the wheel and sit farther back for proper control and safety.
Before starting the engine, AAA recommends that drivers adjust head restraints so they are high and close to the back of the head, then fasten safety belts and adjust mirrors.
Drivers should hold the steering wheel at its equator (3 and 9 o'clock position) or slightly lower. In a crash, this minimizes the possibility of injury to fingers, hands and forearms from deployment of the airbag.
Positioning the hands on the outside of the steering wheel rim also reduces the likelihood that in a frontal crash the driver's hands will be forced off the wheel into his or her face. Keeping the hands on the wheel means the driver is better able to steer the vehicle after the airbag deflates, potentially avoiding a second or third crash.
Drivers who sit too close to the steering wheel need to move back to avoid possible upper body injuries from the considerable force air bags exert as they deploy.
"Correct driving position is essential," said Butler. "It gives the driver better control with less likelihood of injury, stress or fatigue. This is especially important to older drivers and motorists taking long trips."
Drivers can determine their proper position behind the steering wheel by sitting with shoulders comfortably back in the seat, arms slightly bent and hands midpoint or lower along the rim of the wheel. Drivers should be able to pivot their foot from accelerator to brake pedal without lifting their heel from the floor.
Vehicle braking systems also are changing in ways that will force drivers to modify some long-established habits. "Generations of drivers earned their licenses when cars had drum and shoe brakes, and the procedure in an emergency was to pump the brakes and steer in the direction they wanted the front of the vehicle to go," Butler said. "Because many cars today have disc brakes with the antilock feature, in an emergency drivers need to push down hard on the brake pedal and keep it depressed -- not pump. Since the car doesn't skid, the driver retains full steering control."
Motorists interested in upgrading their skills can contact their local AAA club for information about AAA Driver Improvement Programs.