18 Dec Driving Ergonomically = Safer, Healthier Driving
Ergonomic driving is often an overlooked part of driver safety, but proper vehicle ergonomics can help drivers stay healthier behind the wheel and on the job.
While learning how to operate a vehicle properly is a large part of driver safety, it’s only one aspect of it. Protecting yourself from personal health issues is just as important as practicing safe driving behaviors. One overlooked way of staying healthy behind the wheel is vehicle ergonomics.
For vehicles, ergonomics means designing them from a driver and passenger perspective to fit the human body comfortably and efficiently. For example, if the design leads the driver to having poor sitting posture behind the wheel, it can lead to a host of musculoskeletal disorders, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, herniated discs, rotator cuff injuries, and neck and back injuries.
According to a 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, musculoskeletal disorders comprise about 33% of workplace injuries and illnesses that require a worker to take time off from work. A 2010 Gallup poll found that extensive commutes may be a contributor to the development of health issues, including musculoskeletal disorders.
Causes of Musculoskeletal Disorders
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), causes of musculoskeletal disorders that may result from improper driving include:
- Awkward or deviated postures – This includes body twisting, slouching, and leaning forward that might occur on long drives.
- Highly repetitive work – When driving a vehicle, working the brake and gas pedals can put a repetitive strain on the body.
- Excessive force – Applying excessive force with a part of the body can contribute to the development in musculoskeletal disorders, for example, gripping the steering wheel too tightly for an extended period of time.
- Vibration – Sitting, standing, and lying on a vibrating surface for an extended amount of time can also cause health issues, because the vibrations can slightly alter proper posture.
The average work commute time in the United States is approximately 90 minutes per day, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Lengthy commutes are a common part of the work day, which is why it’s important to practice vehicle ergonomics and mitigate health hazards that come with driving for over 20 hours per week. Drivers who sit behind the wheel for extended periods of time because of their job need to be even more cognizant of vehicle ergonomics than those who are primarily driving to commute to and from work.
How to Make Your Vehicle Ergonomic
The first step in improving ergonomic conditions while driving is adjusting your vehicle to fit your body. Before making adjustments, ensure that you are parked safely and reset the position on your seat by adjusting it in the lowest position, furthest back from the steering wheel.
The next step is to readjust your seat optimally for driving by following these steps:
- Raise your seat –The first step is to raise your seat as high as possible to maximize your field of vision around your vehicle. Leave enough head room to avoiding straining your neck or your back.
- Move your seat forward – Move forward until you can fully depress the accelerator and brake pedals. Your knee should have only a slight bend.
- Adjust the seat tilt – The tilt should be adjusted just enough so that the seat supports your thighs.
- Adjust the backrest – The Safety Service Company, which provides OSHA-compliant safety training products, recommends drivers set their backrest about 110 degrees. Make sure there are no pressure points on your spine or any gaps between your body and the seat.
- Adjust the steering wheel – Give enough space for your legs and knees, but also make sure that the instrument panel is completely unobstructed from your seat. There should be a slight bend to your elbows.
- Adjust the mirrors – Your vehicle’s side and rearview mirrors should give you the most expansive view possible of the road around you, without needing to turn or twist your body and neck.
Ergonomics on the Road
While you might be able to set your vehicle to a perfect ergonomic fit, being on the road will still affect your body. The Safety Service Company suggests that drivers adjust their seat’s tilt slightly for every 20 minutes of driving to avoid vibrations affecting the same spot for long stretches of time.
Drivers who have been in a car for two hours or longer should also make a brief stop to stand and stretch. Extended periods of sitting and being sedentary can, in addition to musculoskeletal issues, contribute to cardiovascular problems, because the heart works harder to circulate blood and oxygen through the body when it’s in a seated position for long periods of time.
If you find yourself experiencing regular back pains, foot cramps, a stiff neck, sore shoulders, finger cramps, or other health issues, consult your physician, and evaluate if you need to implement more ergonomic driving habits.