There are several common features you can find in pretty much every car- a glovebox on the passenger’s side, some sort of door pockets, flip-down sun visors and grab handles above each door. Speaking of which, did you notice that some cars do not have grab handles on the driver’s side? Why is that? And what is the actual purpose of those “Oh Jesus!” handles?

Interior of the Volkswagen Golf Mk. II – you can see where the grab handle is supposed to be. (Trogain, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

It is true – some cars have 3 instead of 4 of those grab handles. And if anyone, it is always the driver who is not getting one. For example, a very popular Volkswagen Golf (particularly, Mk. I and Mk. II) didn’t have grab handles on the driver’s side. There was a place for it, but instead of the darn handle you could see a couple of plastic plugs, covering the holes where the actual handle had to be mounted. However, there are some reasons, why manufacturers actually choose to omit the grab handle for the driver.

What are those grab handles actually for? Commonly called “Oh Jesus!” (or “Oh shit!”) handles are actually not for dramating grabbing once someone enters a turn a bit too quickly. These grab handles are actually there to help people get in and out of the car. You may not use them for this purpose, but that is what manufacturers install them for. Older folks and people with impaired movement do use grab handles to ease themselves into cars and improve their position on the seat. Also, nowadays these handles commonly have hooks to hang coats onto.

So why sometimes there is no grab handle on the driver’s side? There are several reasons why manufacturers opt to omit this comfort feature on the driver’s side. The basic motivation to do that is, of course, saving costs. Yeah, manufacturers are saving cents by keeping that plastic handle to themselves, but you will notice that this handle is missing mostly from cheaper cars. So that’s why – every cent counts when you are trying to make the vehicle as cheap as possible.

Dacia Duster, a popular budget SUV, has three grab handles – the driver doesn’t get one. (Renault’s pic.)

Manufacturers believe that drivers are less likely to use them anyway, especially because they have a steering wheel to grab onto. The steering wheel, by the way, also kind of gets in a way of lifting yourself into position using that grab handle. So some manufacturers decided that is simple not needed, because drivers are unlikely to use them anyway.

Another reason is safety. People do use those handles while the car is driving, even if it isn’t their intended function. Drivers should hold the steering wheel with both hands – it is safer that way. Also, absence of this handle prevents people from hanging something there and blocking the view through the side window. Actually, safety is the reason why in the future these grab handles may become increasingly rare.

Renault ZOE is not very cheap, but it also doesn’t have a grab handle on the driver’s side. (Renault’s pic.)

Why manufacturers may get rid of these grab handles? It is unlikely that they will disappear completely, but if these grab handles will come in conflict with side airbags they will have to go. Because people use them to hang onto in sharp turns or on bumpy roads, they cannot be in the blast zone of the airbags. Even in case of a minor accident a deployed airbag could seriously injure someone’s hand if it was tightly clasped around the “Oh Jesus!” handle. Currently it is still not a big problem, but advancements in safety and airbag technology could lead to grab handles becoming more and more rare in passenger cars.

Do you use those grab handles? Do you use them for their actual function?

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