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Driving Ergonomics

Driver showing proper hand position on car wheel for driving ergonomics information

We often speak about workplace ergonomics such as proper desk height, chair position, etc. but there is another place where we spend a great deal of our time…our cars. The Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Safety has put together a great fact sheet that discusses driving ergonomics. In this two-part blog, you’ll learn why sitting in a car seat is different than a regular seat, why driving can cause you discomfort, and how to improve your driving ergonomics. Next week’s blog will cover how to adjust your car seat to make it ergonomically correct.

Is Seating in a Car Seat the Same as Sitting in a Chair?

No, even though you are sitting, they are different activities. When you use the steering wheel, your hands and arms are higher than when you are working at a desk. To operate the brake and accelerator pedals, you have to extend your legs more forward than you would when sitting at a desk. One foot may be flat on the floor and the other at an angle to operate the accelerator and brake pedals. If your vehicle has a standard (manual) transmission, you must use the other foot on the clutch and one arm and hand to operate the gear shift.

In addition, your body experiences up-and-down vibrations from the car traveling on uneven or bumpy road surfaces and the body moves sideways when you turn on corners. Depending on how fast you accelerate or decelerate, you will feel a force on your body.

Can Driving Cause You Discomfort or Pain?

Yes. Discomfort and lower back pain are frequent complaints reported by drivers. These injuries include foot cramps, low back pain, stiff neck, and sore shoulders from poor posture, stress, tension, and staying in one posture or position for an extended period. RDI is a form of a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD). See the OSH Answers on musculoskeletal disorders for more information.

What Occupations are at Risk?

Any person who spends a lot of time in a vehicle (car, truck, ambulance, etc.) is likely to experience aches and pains. Drivers tend to experience pain more often as it is more difficult to shift body positions while driving. However, passengers can also feel the same effects if they are sitting in a vehicle for prolonged periods without changing position or getting out of the vehicle and stretching or taking a break every hour or two where possible.

What Causes these Aches & Pains?

Causes include:

  • Poor posture - from personal habit, or from an improperly adjusted or fitted seat.

  • Low-frequency whole-body vibration in moving cars and trucks can contribute to effects on the lower back.

  • The shape of the vehicle seat itself may put pressure on selected parts of the legs, back, and buttocks. This contact can lead to pain or discomfort at pressure points and may affect blood flow to the legs and feet.

In General, what do I need to know to improve driving comfort?

To be comfortable while driving, look for features such as the interior of the vehicle designed to provide postural and thermal comfort, sufficient "room" or space, acceptable noise levels, and adjustable features that allow the driver to fit the vehicle to their needs.

A vehicle's interior must be adjustable so drivers of different heights and shapes can:

  • reach the pedals and controls

  • have sufficient headroom

  • sit high enough to see out the front and side windows and mirrors, and

  • reach the steering wheel without stretching the arms.

The driver should have sufficient room (25 - 30 cm or 10 - 12 in) between the steering wheel and his or her chest (breastbone) in order for the seat belt and airbag to provide maximum safety protection in case of a crash. The steering wheel column should not interfere with leg movement or bump the knees when getting in and out of the vehicle or while steering and operating the pedals.

You may also wish to make small adjustments to the seat from time to time if you are driving for long periods of time. Any position can become uncomfortable if maintained for a long period of time. As well, try to gently move your arms, legs, and neck if you are stopped at lights.

Credit: CCOH

Dr. Andre tip: Ask your chiropractor for any specific stretches or exercises you could incorporate to optimize your driving postures and stressors.

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