You Might Be Holding Your Steering Wheel All Wrong /

Even if some knowledge (like how to parallel park) has faded since you last took driver's ed, this tidbit may have stuck: When holding a steering wheel, your hands are supposed to be at the 10 and 2 positions, as on a clock. This placement gives you the most control if you need to turn your car suddenly, and was therefore considered the safest for years. But if you've taken a driving course recently, you may have heard something completely different. Thanks to changes in air bag design, 9 and 3 is now the recommended hand position.

Placing your hands higher up on the steering wheel gives you a better grip, but it also places your arms directly in the path of the airbag should it go off. As the airbag inflates upwards, it could potentially thrust your hands toward your face and break your nose or cause a head injury. The chemical reaction that triggers the airbag also presents a safety hazard. When a car senses a crash, a flash of nitrogen gas deploys the airbag, cushioning the driver's head and upper body in case they fling forward—but if their hands are too close to the airbag when it opens, the super-hot chemicals may cause additional harm.

The solution to these risks, according to the AAA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [PDF], is to simply move your hands lower down the wheel. Holding the steering wheel at opposite sides—9 and 3—gives you sufficient leverage while keeping your arms out of the way of the steering wheel column and the airbag inside it. Some experts even recommended placing your hands even lower, at 8 and 4, to minimize the chance of injury as much as possible.

Steering guidelines may have evolved, but other safety tips—like keeping your headlights on in bad weather and maintaining a safe distance from other cars—are just as useful today as they were decades ago. Here are some more tips to keep in mind when driving during the winter months.