Most of us probably take airbags for granted, but it was only in 1998 that the federal government made them mandatory in passenger cars. According to a fact sheet published by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2013, frontal airbags have saved an average of 2,336 lives annually between 2008 and 2012. They’re an engineering marvel that have made a real difference in safety on the road.
But, driving a car with a steering-wheel airbag does require updating an old-school habit. If you’re still using the “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock” position, it’s time to change.
Slide those hands down the wheel a bit
NHTSA now recommends moving the hands down the wheel to the “9 o’clock and 3 o’clock” position. Here’s why.
When your airbag is triggered, super-hot nitrogen gas fills the bag, forcing open the plastic cover on your steering wheel. The bag then expands toward you at 150-250 mph. The higher your hands are on the wheel, the more likely they are to be over that plastic cover—and the more likely they are to be injured when it blows open.
A driver otherwise protected by the airbag can suffer a broken nose or concussion caused by the hand being blasted into the face, finger or hand amputation, fracture, or a rather gruesome and very graphically-named injury called “de-gloving.”
9 and 3 strikes a reasonable balance between driving safety (hands in a good position to control the car), and injury avoidance if the airbag goes off (hands out of the way of the cover).