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The Proper Off-Road Driving Position

Posted in Features on July 5, 2017
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It seems like everyone is selling products hyping enhanced performance and reduced fatigue these days, but I can promise you that proper driving position increases effectiveness, efficiency, and your trail performance while reducing fatigue, and it works without expensive pills! Simple solutions are often overlooked. Drivers complain about discomforts of long days in the seat or ability to see obstacles on the trail. When we begin one of our 4WD courses with proper seating, leg and hand placement, it often conflicts with how our clients have been driving. However, most report by the end of the day that they feel more in control and less tired.

Properly placing your body in your Jeep helps you enjoy the trail longer. Did you notice the road winding along the ledge below and to the left, or only the ledge just in front of the hood? A basic rule is “Don’t drive where you can’t see.” This spot definitely warrants some scouting on foot.

First, your seat height should be adjusted so that your hips and knees are equally supported when your foot is in position on the throttle. This allows even pressure on your backside and less leg fatigue after hours in the seat. The seat adjustment forward should allow you to be able to completely depress the brake and clutch while your knee remains slightly bent, not fully extended. Your seat height and steering wheel tilt should allow you to see all of the instruments without leaning forward.

Your right leg should have equal support from hip to knee when your heel is on the floor and the ball of your foot is on the throttle, with your ankle at a 90-degree angle. With your leg supported properly, you have more control on the pedals, and more stamina over the long trail.

Second, you may need to adjust the seat up or down, forward or back, so that the heel of your throttle foot is resting on the floor, and the ball of your foot is on the throttle pedal. Your ankle should make a 90-degree angle between your foot and your leg.

Everyone can agree that two hands on the steering wheel is better than one, and having your eyes at a level that allows you to see the gauges, above the steering wheel, and above hood gives you better odds of averting potential disasters.

Once your seat position is adjusted, the placement of your hands on the steering wheel affects safety, effectiveness, and fatigue, too. Many driving instructors, including those at Barlow Adventures, now recommend that you place your hands on the steering wheel in the 8- and 4-o’clock position. This accomplishes three things: keeps your shoulders down in a more relaxed position, sustainable over hours of rough terrain; keeps your thumbs from wanting to wander inside of the steering wheel, which can be hazardous if you hit something and the steering impact whips the steering wheel around; and it keeps your hands and arms out of the path of the air bag. This 8- and 4-o’clock position on the steering wheel often feels odd at first, but it keeps your shoulders down in a more natural and relaxed position, allowing a fuller range of motion of your neck, and therefore, better field of vision.

Your heel should be resting on the floor, your ankle making a 90-degree angle between your leg and your foot, with the pressure on the throttle coming from the ball of your foot, not your toes or arch. This allows full range of motion for a smoother throttle control. Jp Pro Tip: When you are in a particularly rough patch of terrain, slide your throttle foot over to the right and brace it against the transmission hump to prevent your foot from bouncing around on the throttle.

This steering position also lends itself to better control. Effective steering is a consistent, smooth motion when pulling the steering wheel down in the direction you want to go. Your right hand should stay on the right half of the steering wheel and your left hand should stay on the left half. For example, to turn right, move your right hand to the top of the wheel and pull down with your right hand, while your left hand slides down to the bottom, and then pushes up while your right hand slides back to the top, and repeat as necessary to complete the turn. If your steering actions are so abrupt that you have to cross over your arms to complete a turn, you are not effectively controlling your vehicle.

We teach hand position at 8- and 4-o’clock to allow a natural “thumbs out” position and more relaxed shoulders for those long drives. You don’t want your thumbs to get caught in the steering wheel during a sudden jerk of the wheels, nor do you want your arms in front of the air bag if it deploys. Even the steering wheel design of many late-model vehicles favors the 8- and 4-o’clock position.

Looking farther down the road and planning ahead also helps eliminate these sudden and jerky corrections. Most new drivers tend to look too close to the front of the vehicle while driving. Good driving is constant scanning as far out as you can see down the road so you have more time to plan your driving corrections. If you are a four-wheeler who is always leaning forward to look at the 10 feet of trail in front of the hood, or leaning out the side window to watch your driver front tire the whole time you are on a rough patch, you are not looking and planning far enough ahead. It is a lot more mental work to develop constant situational awareness and map out the plan in your head, but it will pay off with smoother driving.

Where does your eye go? Good driving is looking farther down the road so that corrections are less abrupt. While most drivers are looking directly in front of the hood or at the curve straight ahead, professional drivers have already determined their course in that section and are planning their approach to where the road disappears over the horizon in the top left of the photo.

Last but not least, don’t forget your seatbelt. Adjust it so it crosses between your shoulder and your clavicle, not on your neck, and not below the apex of your shoulder. And, please, always wear it. I challenge you to adjust the way you have been sitting in your rig, and please let us know your results.

Don’t forget to smile! Smiling uses fewer muscles than frowning, releases endorphins, and lowers blood pressure.

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