What do you do when you get in the driver’s seat of a new car for the first time? Make sure you’re comfortable, right? Wrong.
There’s a process you need to follow to ensure you’re in the best position to control the car, and stay as safe as you can in the event of a crash.
Have a chat to any crash investigator, emergency response person, doctors or nurses. They have all seen horrific injuries caused by road trauma.
From how you sit in the driver’s seat, to how you hold the steering wheel and position your mirrors – it all counts.
Slide your seat backwards or forwards until you are able to fully compress the pedals, while maintaining a bend in your knee.
Why: If you are able to fully straighten your legs, bracing in the event of a crash – by stiffening your legs – could cause your thigh bones to go straight through the back of your hips.
Move the back of the seat until you are in an upright position. Not only will this be the more gentle position for your back during longer drives, you’ll also have better visibility.
Why: If you are leaning forward you run the risk of having the steering wheel embedded in your face before the airbag has time to provide a buffer. Too far back and in the event of a rear-ender, whiplash injuries are likely to be more severe. mynrma.com.au recommends a minimum of 10-inches or ideally 300mm between your chest and the centre of the steering wheel.
The headrest height should be somewhere between eye-height, and the top of your head.
Why: Again, whiplash. The headrest needs to be correctly positioned so your neck doesn’t snap back over the top of the seat.
When it comes to seat height, raise the seat until you can comfortably reach the steering wheel and see the instrument panel through the gap (most steering wheels are adjustable, we’ll get to that in a minute. You also need to be able to see clearly out of the windscreen and driver and passenger windows.
Why: I’m sure there’s no need to explain this one, but if visibility isn’t optimal you are compromising the safety of not only yourself, but your passengers too.
These days most new cars have adjustable steering wheels, some can be moved in and out, and up and down.
Position the steering wheel so that you can reach your arms out straight and rest your wrists on the wheel, while seeing the instrument panel clearly through the gap. Grip the wheel at 9 and 3 (or quarter to 3) – there should be a slight bend in your elbows.
Why: Same reason as having a bend in your legs: bracing by straightening your arms could send the humerus straight through your shoulders.
I was taught to drive using the old 10 and 2 grip because it gives you more control over the steering. Research and years of crash testing data has taught us that’s not the best way.
Why: The location of the airbags. At 10 and 2 your arms are across the explosion zone of the airbag. If it deploys you could break both your arms on your skull. If you think I’m using shock tactics, an article in the Daily Mail pointed out there’s actually a risk of tearing both your hands off if the airbag goes off when your hands are at 10 and 2.
Sometimes it’s necessary to have a hand off the wheel if you’re changing gears, music, climate control etc. We all know at other times, both hands should grip the wheel in a firm but gentle manner. Never drive with your hand hooked through the top of the wheel (as shown above).
Why: As mentioned before, you could end up punching yourself in the face.
This doesn’t apply to many guys, but under no circumstances should you ever apply makeup (or hold a pen in your mouth for that matter) while driving.
Why: An eyeliner through your eyeball cannot be undone, neither can a ballpoint pen through the back of your throat.
Mirrors should be positioned to eliminate, or reduce as much as possible, the rear quarter blind spot.
Start by adjusting your rear vision mirror so you can see straight out the rear windscreen. At the most, you may catch a glimpse of the top corner of your own head.
The side mirrors are then to be angled to the sides until your own car is just out of the line of sight. For some it can be unnerving to not see your own vehicle, but this arrangement will give you the widest panoramic view of the road behind you.
The view in the passenger side window should just overlap into the rear view mirror, and vice versa with the driver’s side mirror. The side mirrors need to cover that blind spot, enabling you to see if there is a car sneaking up alongside you in the other lane.
A concern raised about this configuration is that it can make it hard to see cyclists and pedestrians if they’re very close to the side of your vehicle. Common sense should prevail, turn your head and check before you open the door. If you’re lazy or have a neck injury move your side mirrors.
Going through these simple steps every time you get into a new car takes barely a few minutes and could reduce your risk of injury in a crash, or even prevent the crash itself.
Shock tactics, yes. But it’s surprising how many don’t realise the importance of such a basic ritual.