Changing direction – steering techniques

Mark Kendrick Technique - fundamentals Leave a Comment

Hopefully, you’ll agree that it’s preferable to steer with both hands. But which steering technique is best, and when? Fixed-grip, rotational, pull-push, or palming – what’s your preference?

For small changes in direction, I favour steering with both hands maintaining a fixed grip on the steering wheel. My usual hold on the steering wheel is that which maximises control and comfort, and where my fingertips conveniently reach the steering column stalks without either hand relinquishing its secure grip. If you imagine the steering wheel to be a clock-face, that equates to about quarter-to-three in most cars, which is where manufacturers fit paddles for manually shifting through an ‘automatic’ gearbox’s ratios.

In road driving, I tend to use fixed-grip steering for hazards that will require no more than about a quarter turn of the steering wheel. For these small steering inputs, my aim is to maximise the feedback I’m receiving through the palms of my hands and fingertips, hence maintaining a fixed, relaxed grip on the wheel with both hands. On the approach to hazards, if I assess that more lock is likely to be required, I’ll utilise the pull-push method instead. With an airbag-equipped helm, I’m mindful of the dangers of crossing my arms in front of the steering wheel. If the airbag deploys, my hands are likely to be forced from the rim and my arms into my face. If you’re as ugly as me you’ll not wish to disfigure yourself further!

With pull-push, your hands are more likely to fall upon the column stalks mid-hazard. If you drive on the left-hand side of the road (as we do here in the UK), picture entering a tight left-hand bend at night on an unlit road. Imagine mid-corner you encounter an oncoming driver you’re dazzling with your main-beam headlights. If, having steered with a fixed grip, your hands are now at six o’clock, how will you immediately dip your headlights? In contrast, if you had taken your leading hand (the left hand for left-handers) to the top of the steering wheel before pulling the wheel through your relaxed right hand, the same quarter turn of the wheel will now result in your hands easily falling upon the column stalks. Also, if the corner tightens unexpectedly – or an emergency arises that requires you to steer onto the nearside to avoid a collision – you can rapidly apply another 180° of lock (using fixed-grip). If you had used the fixed-grip technique on the approach, you’d only have another quarter turn or so of lock immediately available.

In contrast to other techniques, pull-push is relatively slow. In normal road driving, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, in the event of an emergency or when power-sliding around a track, fixed-grip or rotational steering is preferable. Of those drivers that I have observed over the years who favour pull-push steering, I’ve noticed that most have a tendency to ‘shuffle’ the wheel through their hands using small steering inputs. When you feed the wheel through your hands make sure you’re using the full circumference of the steering wheel. Steering through tight turns, do your hands meet at the top and bottom of the wheel? Make sure you’re getting full leverage.

Provided that you smoothly get the required amount of steering when you want it, it’s largely a matter of personal choice how you steer. However, be mindful of each technique’s pros and cons, and select the method that best suits the circumstances. It might be easiest to ‘palm’ the wheel into a tight parking space.

Enjoy your driving,

Mark Kendrick

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