Seating and Steering

November 19, 2013

As drivers, in order for us to maintain a safe driving technique, we must know how to achieve the best seating position.

By doing so, our steering, use of pedals and all-round vision will be improved.

In Oman, I’ve noticed a widely adopted seating position which provides none of these things.

Many drivers tend to position their seat as low and as far back as possible. Their seatback is also so severely reclined that it necessitates the driver having to hold himself partially upright by pulling against the steering wheel and having a large gap between his back and the seat.

Apart from the poor control which results, this must be very uncomfortable and potentially distracting. Such drivers are often so low in the vehicle it’s not possible to see their shoulders above the door line.

So, let’s look at best practice in relation to the driver’s seating position.

We should sit slightly reclined with our shoulders comfortably resting against the seatback. The seat should be adjusted so we don’t have to stretch for the pedals.

Imagine the steering wheel as a clock face. We should place our left hand outside the rim of the wheel somewhere between the ‘9’ and the ‘10’ and the right hand somewhere between the ‘2’ and the ‘3’.

Our arms should be slightly bent. This is because in the event of a collision, the straight-arm technique – even with a collapsible steering column – will not absorb energy as well as bent ones, and unnecessary injury can result.

However, many drivers maintain ‘control’ with a single hand resting ineffectually at the ‘12’ position on the wheel.

I also see drivers in Oman whose seating and steering technique is the opposite of what I’ve described, but which presents its own problems.

This relates to those drivers who tend to sit much too close to the wheel so that their arms are virtually fully bent. This technique severely inhibits the steering action and places the driver’s chest much too close to the airbag deployment area. The airbag is designed to work best if there’s a certain distance between the deployment area and the upper body.

Check your vehicle handbook for advice.

For best control, we should also avoid crossing our hands on the steering wheel when we turn. If the airbag should deploy while our arms are crossing the wheel, it’s likely that it will push our fist into our face at high speed, thereby again causing unnecessary injury.

A common technique I see is one-handed steering with the flat palm remaining at one place on the wheel and rotating it in that fashion. As well as the described danger of self-injury, this technique increases the risk of the wheel slipping under our palm, which could result in a loss of directional control.

Another factor to consider with seating is that if we become too relaxed physically, we can fall into the trap of becoming too relaxed mentally, and this also increases risk.

I see drivers who are slouched behind the wheel in the way described and my impression is that they don’t look like they’re in charge of their vehicle at all: They resemble someone lounging in front of the TV with only half their attention engaged, rather than someone driving a potentially lethal weapon.

‘Slouched body = slouched mind’!

We will stay alert by consistently adopting a seating position which gives us a sense of ‘being in charge’ rather than that of being a ‘passenger behind the wheel’!

In summary, we should always adjust our seating in accordance with the described best practice. This will positively contribute to all-round vision, best steering technique and, therefore, improved risk management.

Safe driving!