Is it ever OK to use one's knees (no hands) to steer?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I really need your help. My husband drives many hours a day back and forth to work, as well as chauffeuring me and the kids around on the weekends to sporting events and other things. I believe that all of this driving has taken a toll on whatever brain cells he has left. When he is driving, he removes both hands from the wheel and does whatever he wants, such as reaching for something in the back seat or glove compartment, or using the cellphone, etc. He tells me this is OK because he is using his KNEE to steer the vehicle. I have begged him many times (OK, I've nagged him) to stop this practice, telling him how dangerous it can be, especially at 70 mph. I'm scared for myself and the kids. He won't listen to me. Maybe he will listen to you. Are there any kinds of statistics related to "handless driving"? -- Carole

TOM: There are very few statistics for "hands-free" driving, Carole, for two reasons: Either the driver ends up dead -- in which case we never know -- or the driver survives but is too embarrassed to mention that he was unable to swerve and avoid the accident due to poor knee-eye coordination.

RAY: But you're absolutely right, Carole. It IS dangerous. While many cars with power steering can easily be kept moving in a relatively straight line using the pressure of a knee or thigh, sometimes you need to quickly change the direction of the vehicle. And you're not always given a lot of warning.

TOM: Right. Accidents don't happen when everything is going just as you predicted. They happen when something unexpected occurs. So if another yutz on a cellphone weaves into the lane in front of your husband, or a kid on a bicycle rides out of his driveway and into the road, and your husband is fumbling in the glove compartment with both hands, he's going to crash or kill somebody. Or both.

RAY: He can also lose control if he ever has a blowout, or even if he hits a pothole large enough to move the wheels. And it might not be just you and the kids, Carole. He might take other people, or other families, with him.

TOM: So I think he's a candidate for behavioral conditioning. From your position in the passenger seat, rest your left arm on the back of the driver's seat. Then every time you see him take his hands off the wheel, administer a swift dope slap. Fwappp! Then ask him what he intended to reach for, and get it FOR him.

RAY: Cars have gotten so good and so comfortable that it's easy to believe that driving requires no effort at all. And if driving requires no effort, then why not dial a phone, eat a bowl of soup or read a newspaper at the same time? But no matter how good cars have gotten, they still require two eyes on the road, two hands on the wheel and, most importantly, a fully engaged brain. So shape up, Carole's husband. We hope he listens to us, Carole, because we take our families on the same roads he takes you guys on.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One