Steering technique is the subject of furious debate in the driving community. As I get underway with this section, police driving instructors and test examiners are sharpening their pencils, dipping them in poison and preparing to fire off missives. ‘This is heresy, burn him!’ they cry. Read on at your peril.
Your choice of style ultimately boils down to what makes you feel most comfortable. Here are the different options:
The technique we learn by rote to pass the test is passing the wheel from one hand to the other at points in its upper hemisphere to turn the car in the desired direction. The hands generally operate in the 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock positions. For many, it’s the simplest way to get from A to B and a method that lasts a lifetime.
For very tight manoeuvres in city centres and car parks, shuffle steering is a simple and effective means of progress.
The shortfall is you lose a sense of balance and the ability to gauge how much steering has been applied, which in turn can affect your reaction to an incident. Unless you’re really slick, making a turn tends to be a jerky series of direction changes rather than a smooth curve.
I find it pretty daft for anything other than the most basic applications, but it didn’t do Simon Cowell any harm. Simon shuffled his way to two record lap times at the helm of Top Gear’s Reasonably Priced Car. He was so comfortable with it that breaking the habit would have done more harm than good.
However, when he tried his hand behind the wheel of a 450-horsepower Noble, we ended up heading backwards into a field at 120mph as the result of too much steering with a precision instrument which required finesse, unlike an old Suzuki Liana.
The Push and Pull
This is the time-honoured system of the police, the Institute of Advanced Motorists and many others, and is a more formulaic version of the Shuffle. Scandinavian rally drivers refer to it a touch unflatteringly as ‘milking the cow’.
Going into a left-hander, the left hand rises up the wheel and pulls it down. As it does so, the right hand slides down the other side, until it comes level with its partner-in-crime. If more steering is required, the right hand pushes the wheel up, while the left hand slides up the wheel, ready to pull down again if required.
When Cottenham designed Police Roadcraft in the 1930s, you had to manhandle a wheel big enough for an America’s Cup super-yacht, without the benefit of power steering. Pulling and pushing was the only way to make a corner without breaking your wrists.
The system encourages anticipation of corners by readying the hand positions in advance, but in my view it’s completely outdated, overly complicated and inefficient for skid control. It forces steering activity to alternate between the lower and upper hemispheres of the wheel, making it harder for the human brain to register the subtle forces feeding back from the tyres.
Crucially, you also lose a sense of balance by pulling into a corner with one hand rather than two and, as we’ll see, how you enter a corner has the greatest effect on weight transfer and stability.