Steering – 'Power is nothing without control'

Blog post posted on 27/07/16 |

‘Power is nothing without control,’ – Pirelli Advertisement, 2006.

IAM RoadSmart has now launched its new Advanced Driver course training material and steering featured in the roll out to observers and examiners.  What I still find amusing is that rotational steering, first featured in the 2007 edition of Roadcraft and yet, here we are nine years on with some still denying its very existence.  Recently I was told that as far as both the police and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) were concerned all forms of steering apart from pull-push had been discontinued. Nothing could be further from the truth and I am very happy to dismiss this rumour. Safe, competent and effective steering is what is required.

When it comes to your steering technique there are some key questions you should ask yourself as an advanced driver:

  1. Is it safe?
  2. Are you in full control of the vehicle?
  3. Can you reach all the ancillary controls of the vehicle easily?
  4. Could you react quickly to changing circumstances?

If you can answer yes to those questions, then what else are you worrying about?  Wait …I can hear it – ‘THUMBS and AIRBAGS,’ some shout. People often say - ‘If your thumbs are not on the outside of the wheel then when you collide with the kerb they will get broken’ and ‘If you cross your arms on the wheel, when you crash your arms will get blown into your face by the airbag.’ Why are we assuming crashing? Pessimism won’t help with your placing thumbs or arms but furthermore with your driving.

On a purely mechanical side note, older cars with low ratio non-power steering racks feedback very directly to the driver through the steering wheel, hence the old worry about thumbs. With modern high-ratio power steering racks the mechanical effect is reversed. The driver now has the upper hand.

After my first blog, I was asked to explain my steering methods for greater clarity. Here are the five known techniques I use or a hybrid of each where appropriate:

Pull - push:  I use this method when the vehicle is travelling more slowly, roundabouts and junctions are an example of where large amounts of steering input can be required in a short distance. Remember don’t be the Playstation generation! Slide your hands to the 12 o'clock position first so you get maximum rotation with your first pull.

Fixed grip: When the vehicle is travelling more quickly I 'fix my grip' on the steering wheel and use a direct steering input to negotiate the bend. I do not cross my arms as there is no need, with a higher ratio steering rack little movement is needed to steer effectively this way.

Rotational: During low-speed manoeuvring rotational 'hand over hand' steering is effective and gives maximum output. With power steering consider 'palming' with just one hand on the rim of the wheel. It works well when manoeuvring very slowly i.e. maximum steering effect with very minimal road wheel movement. It is very effective when reversing a towed trailer.  But remember – no dry steering!

Single input: This one requires the driver to be fully familiar with their vehicle dynamics.  I am stationary and I wish to move off putting in a large amount of steering input for minimal road wheel travel, for example a right turn major to minor when held stationary by oncoming traffic.  I bring my right hand down to the opposite side of the wheel to about the eight o'clock position and as I move forward one single input of steering takes me directly where I want to be. I then control the self-centering action as we straighten up, not letting the wheel slip through my hands.

Pre-positioning: Juan Manuel Fangio was the master of this one also known as 'The Fangio shuffle.’  When approaching a sweeping corner the five time world champion would pre-position his hands on the wheel so when he turned into the corner the result was his hands were then in the quarter to three position, where he had maximum steering control during the curved path. Before someone tells me ‘this is just for the track’ – in the 1950’s and 1960’s public roads were the tracks, Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Reims, Targa Floria etc.

IAM RoadSmart advanced driving courses are about developing thinking drivers. If you adhere to just one method of steering then doing just one thing is easy.  However, if you can correctly demonstrate safe and effective steering control in your vehicle, using a variety of known steering techniques, at appropriate times in the drive, then you are indeed a thinking driver.  So to the doubters out there, are we lowering, maintaining or raising standards?  You be the judge.

Enjoy the drive.

Shaun Cronin, IAM Roadsmart’s regional quality manager (Southern)