The Correct Driving Position

The Correct Driving Position
By: Ken Koop-The Yellowstone Region (Old Faithful Newsletter)Have you ever been cruising down the highway and happened to notice the driving position of certain people in the car next to you? A few people drive with their seat set all the way back. Their arms are fully stretched out, having no bend at all in their elbows. Then some people are so close to the steering wheel that you could not slip a CD between the steering wheel and their chest. Well obviously, both of these positions are incorrect for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is safety. In both of these positions the driver does not have the leverage or the movement required in their arms to make emergency driving corrections. For a professional race car driver or people lucky enough to have their own dedicated race car, their seat and steering wheel is set to a specified position that never changes. They do this so that every time they get into their cars, the position is optimized to help them best perform their job. Go fast! They can’t do that without the correct seating set-up.
So is there actually an ideal position for all drivers? Well, there is something very close to a perfect position that allows for comfort (which leads to less fatigue), leverage, bracing and good control of the vehicle in all types of driving conditions. It was not until I attended my first driving school that I actually learned about the correct seating position. If you attend a Professional Sports Car Race, you will see almost every driver using this same set-up.
Let’s look at how to adjust the seat and steering wheel to provide you with the proper set-up for both street and track driving conditions. We will start with the seating position since that is our first contact with the car and every other adjustment is predicated on the correct seat set-up. Adjust the seat to the lowest position that still allows you a good view of the road ahead. This not only helps to lower the car’s center of gravity for better cornering and performance, but it also places the driver’s body closer to the vehicle’s yaw, pitch and roll axis. This gives the driver a better feel for what the car is doing during any changes in speed or direction. Your derrière should be tucked firmly into the seat back, so that you can get feedback from the chassis, through the seat, up your spine and finally reaching the brain (where you can determine what the car is doing). You will get a better feel as to what the rear end of the car is doing if your body is firmly anchored to the seat. Position the seat forward enough so your knee still has some bend in it with the clutch pedal being fully depressed. You do not want to be able to fully extend your leg or have to stretch while depressing the clutch. That will not provide you with adequate leverage while engaging the clutch or brake pedals. Also, you do not want the steering column interfering with the movement of your legs while you are operating the brake or clutch. Your right foot should be comfortably placed to allow you to pivot the foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal without lifting the heel off the floor. The left foot, when not operating the clutch, should be resting on the “dead pedal” (that’s what it is there for). This will provide you some additional bracing while cornering or during an emergency maneuver.Now that we have your feet and legs positioned correctly, let’s take a look at the arm position. The correct distance from the steering wheel is easily adjusted with some simple techniques. The proper distance can be achieved with your shoulders resting against the back of the seat, and then stretching your arms out straight (with no break in the elbows) so that the wrists are resting on the very top of the steering wheel. The wrists should be able to break so that your hands are able to droop over the far side of the wheel. If your wrists do not break at the top of the wheel, then you will need to adjust the seat (or adjust the angle of the seat-back) forward or backward to achieve this position. If your steering wheel has adjustability for reach (in and out) and height (up and down), this will give you some additional help in fine tuning your optimal position. You will probably notice that the angle of your seat-back (when adjusted correctly) will be more upright than you are accustomed to. Being too close or too far away from the wheel will inhibit your ability to maneuver in tight corners; i.e., driving on mountain roads, swerving to avoid an animal that might run into the street or driving on a race track. An improper position may even require you to move your hands on the steering wheel while cornering, which is not only a terrible technique but can also be dangerous.
Randy Pobst, Photo by Ken Koop Randy Pobst, Photo by Ken Koop
Your hand position on the steering wheel should be in the 9 and 3 o’clock positions with the thumbs in contact with the 9 and 3 o’clock spokes of the wheel. This will give you more direct feedback from the front suspension in case of over or under-steering conditions. Your right hand will also be in a better position for reaching the gear shift lever and allows for a more natural movement when grabbing for that next gear. Locating your hands this way allows for more steering input in tight corners, without your forearms crossing over each other. If you have front air bags, it is slightly safer in helping to prevent wrist or hand damage in case of an air bag deployment as well. Lastly, your elbows should be allowed to rest comfortably by your side.Now for a final check of your position. After you believe you have everything set correctly, see if you have between 90 and 130 degrees of bend in the elbows, with your hands in the 9 and 3 o’clock position. Then make sure all of the dials and dash lights on the instrument panel are clearly visible without the steering wheel impeding your view. All three mirrors should be set to provide you with adequate visibility in all directions. With these final checks completed, you have successfully achieved your correct position. If you are like most people, you will find that your original position was a little too far away from the pedals and the steering wheel. You were holding the wheel in the 10 and 2 positions and the seat-back was reclined too much. This new position will probably feel uncomfortable and strange to you at first. With a little practice and care in your seating set-up (whether you are driving your Porsche or another car), you can develop a better driving position that leads not only to better car control, but also makes for safer driving as well. This will provide you with a quick set-up routine. You can carry this from one car to another and it only takes a minute to correctly set your position once you know what you are doing.After reading this article, my wife Robin, actually tried this new seating position. As predicted, she complained that she was too close to the wheel and felt very uncomfortable while driving. But with just a few weeks of practice, she has become accustomed to her new set-up. Now she thinks I am the most wunderbar husband for teaching her something new and useful (like I’ve never done that before), yada, yada, yada. If she was able to change and improve her driving habits after some 35 years behind the wheel, then anyone can (a mandated age disclaimer; FYI my wife politely told me to mention that she started driving when she was 2 years old)-yea right. Next to buckling your seat belt, this is probably the most important thing you can do to help ensure your driving safety.

The pictures in the article are taken courtesy of Randy Pobst. Randy is a professional race car driver and has driven Porsches for many years. He has competed at the 12 Hours of Sebring, won the 24 Hours of Daytona and has been hired by Porsche as a Factory Driver. He is a tremendous supporter of the PCA and an all around nice guy. Randy is currently driving in the Speed GT World Challenge series with the K-PAX Porsche Racing Team. He and the K-PAX Team were very kind in cooperating with me to set up the car and driver so I could take these pictures for the article. Randy totally agrees with this seating position for the driver. Another thing that Randy felt was very important for the driver is the finger pressure on the steering wheel. Drivers should not have a death grip on the wheel. Rather, the steering wheel should be held with a light and relaxed finger grip. This will provide more road feedback as well as prevent excessive hand and forearm fatigue. While watching the Speed GT series on Speed Vision, keep an eye on Randy and the Porsche K-PAX Team. He won the drivers championship in 2007, and plans on having another successful season in 2008!

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