Off-Roading: Thumb Really Good Driving Advice

off-roading in action
Off-roading is a popular sport. But if you want to keep your thumbs intact, keep them on the outside of the steering wheel.

Off-roading is a popular sport, but sometimes a car goes off-road by accident. Whichever way you do it, the best off-roading advice we’ve ever heard comes from an elderly Canadian patriot. This ex-military man served in the Royal Canadian Artillery during the WWII. His advice is something to remember if you skid and go off-road by accident due to icy road conditions. But it’s also good driving advice for those who go off-roading for recreational purposes.

The advice? Keep your thumbs on the outside rim of the steering wheel.

For the uninitiated, off-roading means driving on rough, unpaved roads. Driving on natural terrain means driving on sand, mud, snow, rocks, gravel, and other materials found on uneven, unsurfaced turf. But then, off-roading can also mean driving at high speed. The off-road driver, whether for fun or by unlucky happenstance, is going to encounter lots of pits and bumps, often at breakneck pace. The thumbs-on-the-outside-of-the-wheel advice relates to exactly these conditions.

Thumb Off-Roading Advice

When you drive on difficult terrain, the tendency for the driver is to grip the steering wheel, hard. That’s precisely when you want your thumbs outside of the rim, because the other way is a great way to painfully wreck your thumbs. The off-road driver should never wrap his thumbs around the spokes. He shouldn’t, in fact, have his thumbs anywhere near the spokes.

Off-Roading and Steering Kickback

The advice to keep your thumbs on the outside of the wheel has to do with steering kickback. When the driver hits a pothole, bump, rock, or other natural phenomena, the steering wheel may kick back against the driver. If you hit a large or fixed object, such as a rock, it can send some serious kickback through the steering wheel. When that happens, if your thumbs are inside the steering wheel, you risk dislocating or even breaking your thumbs.

What does all this have to do with our loyal Canadian military man? Here’s the deal: during the Second World War, the former soldier was among those who hauled artillery and ammunition, often off-road, in ¾-ton Canadian Military Pattern trucks. Canadian artillery men soon learned the hard way that when they rested their thumbs on the inside of the wheel, accidents happened (and digits suffered). The men caught on, and soon conditioned themselves to a new way of holding the steering wheel.

The first (and possibly best) advice bestowed on regimental newbies was exactly that: keep your thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel when you drive.

Driving with your thumbs outside the wheel is going to feel awkward. Most of us drive with our thumbs inside the steering wheel. Most likely this advice is only for those who go off-roading for sport, and for the rest of us, when encountering difficult driving conditions. That’s when driving with thumbs outside the wheel is good advice: advice to remember.



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