The ‘boy racer’ straight arm technique — fine for the narrow confines of a racing car cockpit, but totally unsuitable for a road car.
As you come out of a turn, straighten up by reversing the method. Do not allow either hand to stray beyond the `12 o’clock’ position, because this greatly reduces the degree of fine control you have over the steering. Even when you have applied considerable lock through a tight turn, your hands should still remain opposite each other, ready to apply corrective lock if you skid or extra lock should it be needed.
As you come out of a bend it can be tempting to allow the steering’s self-centring action to pull the wheel back to the straight-ahead position by letting the rim slip through your fingers. Advanced drivers do not do this because it has a serious disadvantage when sudden steering movement is necessary. Valuable fractions of a second are wasted regaining a grip on the wheel and then working out just where the front wheels are pointing in relation to the steering. Only during low-speed manoeuvring, perhaps when turning round in a car park, can this method be regarded as acceptable. Although it is never strictly necessary, it is acceptable when parking or reversing to take one hand past ’12 o’clock’ on the rim.
At all other times the ‘crossed hands’ style at the wheel should be avoided because it prevents you from being in perfect control of the steering. Racing drivers can be seen crossing their hands (at least in the days when the driver was visible in his car), but for them speed is of the essence, danger is a secondary consideration and there is room to make mistakes. None of these aspects apply on public roads.
Many motorists do not take the trouble to judge accurately the width of their cars, showing that they imagine the vehicle to be three feet wider than it really is by giving an excessively wide berth to any obstacle. Acquiring a precise idea of your car’s width and length enables you to negotiate a path through congested traffic more easily, or to squeeze into a tight parking spot which once would have looked too small. You can learn to steer accurately and judge the dimensions of your car by practicing with markers in an empty car park on a Sunday morning. Once this art is perfected, do not exploit it unwisely by passing parked cars or overtaking with only inches to spare, or taking left-hand bends within a hair’s breadth of the kerb.
Gentle but firm touch
As well as positioning the hands correctly, you should also grip the wheel in the right way. Timid or inexperienced drivers often grip the wheel so tightly that the whites of their knuckles show. Apart from being tiring, an excessively strong grip also tends to make steering movements coarser, which can cause the car to drift from side to side when cruising at 70mph on a motorway. With properly adjusted steering any car should run straight, but to do so it responds best to a light, but firm, hold. Most cars are influenced by strong cross-winds or by the buffeting which occurs when passing a large coach or truck on the motorway, and in these circumstances a gentle touch is best for applying tiny steering corrections. Steering a car is like horse riding: keep a firm but gentle hold on the reins. If perspiration makes a plastic steering wheel rim slippery, use a lace-on leather cover, or driving gloves thin enough to permit sensitive touch.
Never wear thick gloves when driving in winter before the heater has had a chance to warm the car through. They are clumsy, can affect your grip and tend to make your steering movements coarse, which in wet or icy conditions can lead to a skid. Since you are not such an alert driver when you are shivering, it is best to let the car warm up for five or ten minutes before setting out on a winter journey.