Ergonomics aims to optimize the interaction between humans and their environment. Instead of allowing people to adapt to an environment that forces them to work in an uncomfortable, stressful, or dangerous way, an appropriate ergonomic set-up will modify your setting to allow you to work efficiently and minimize pain and discomfort.
For those in the transportation and transit industry who spend many hours of their day sitting alert behind a wheel, it is vital to focus on their vehicle set-up. Even those of us driving to and from work spend upwards of 20% of our leisure time sitting in their cars. Have you ever thought about how your vehicle set-up may be impacting your health?
Here are some helpful tips on how you can mitigate the risk of any musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) developing over time.
Eight Tips to Improve Your Driving Ergonomics
1) Seat Height
The seat should be adjusted to a height where you can safely see out the windshield while still having a firm foot placement on the ground. For taller individuals, be sure to leave enough head room to avoid any sudden contact with the roof.
2) Seat Distance
You should be able to comfortably reach beyond the pedals without having to overreach or shift their hips. Be careful that this adjustment does not put you too close to the steering wheel.
3) Steering Wheel
There should be enough space (20-25 cm) between your hands and your shoulders while you are driving. This will reduce the risk of injury if the air bag were to deploy. If you feel like you are pulling on the steering wheel, rather than pushing, then the steering wheel is too far away. An elbow angle between 95o and 120o was found to be optimum for driving precision. At these angles, the hands are slightly pushing rather than pulling on the steering wheel.
Steering wheel height should be placed at a position where your shoulders can remain relaxed at angle range of 0o-63o relative to the body and it does not block sight of your controls and gauges.
4) Seat Recline
The seat should be reclined so there is an angle range of 900-110o. Pressure between the vertebrae and on the lower back is significantly reduced when the seat is reclined slightly. This position will allow your muscles in the back to relax, reducing incidence of fatigue. However, leaning back any further than 1100 will cause excessive neck flexion which will lead to pain and discomfort over time.
5) Lumbar Support
The lumbar support will help maintain neutral spine. It should be positioned directly at the small of the back, between your pelvis and your lower ribs, and applying pressure just to the point that you feel it. For cars that do not have this feature, there are many lumbar pillows that can attached to your seat. It is not recommended to use a towel or any device that cannot be secured into place.
6) Head Rest
The head rest is designed to prevent whiplash, therefore you must not need to rest your head while driving. However, it is important that it be adjusted to the correct height to minimize the distance from the headrest to the back of your head.
Once you have all the above set up properly, you must then set up your mirrors to the correct angles that prevents your body and head from leaving neutral position. Position your mirrors so that all you need is a simple eye glance.
8) Stretches and Breaks
No matter how perfect your posture, your body will eventually get tired sitting in one position. The human body is not designed to keep a fixed position or to perform repetitive tasks. To avoid pain, discomfort, and possible injury, it’s important to take frequent breaks from any fixed position, including while driving. Take a stretch break at least every 2 hours to move your muscles, change position, and help blood to recirculate.