OSEA Safety Blog

The Ergonomics of Driving

Monday, July 6, 2020 Tiffany Bartz

Have you ever ridden in someone's passenger seat and notice how much differently they sit than you? Have you ever sat in someone else driver's seat and had to adjust the seat tremendously? Like many Americans, I spend a lot of time driving back and forth to work. Without knowing the correct ergonomic practices, your everyday drives to work can become detrimental to your bones and muscles.

The average American spends roughly 50 minutes a day driving, which adds up to a lot of time over the course of a year behind the wheel. Driving has been shown to increase fatigue, mental stress, and can indeed cause physical injury. The most common physical injuries associated with repetitive driving include upper and lower back pain, neck discomfort, lower limb pain, foot and leg cramps, sore shoulders, and overall physical tension.

As a safety professional, I have often had to evaluate ergonomics in the workplace. Posture, force, duration, and frequency are the four main factors that are evaluated in order to determine ergonomic stress. We may not have much control over the duration and frequency that we drive, but obviously, if we must travel a great distance, we can stop and stretch. Listening to music or a book on audio can help alleviate the mental stress of driving. The one item that we can control or adjust is our posture.

If you think of a good driving posture almost exactly as good office posture, then you will be off to a good start. Fortunately, modern-day automobile seats have a lot of adjustments that can be made in order to accommodate the range of body shapes and sizes that humans come in. The following is a list of tips to help you maintain a good driving posture.

  • Raise the seat height until your hips and knees are aligned.
  • Position the seat so that you can reach and completely depress the foot pedals without coming away from the backrest.
  • Set the backrest recline to an angle of 100-110 degrees. This helps to reduce disc pressure in your lower back.
  • Adjust the headrest so it rests in the middle of your head.
  • Raise the lumbar support to position it in the curve of your lower back and increase the depth to fully support that curve (if possible).
  • Lower the steering wheel and telescope it towards you (it’s recommended that this distance be about 10-12 inches for safety). This reduces reaching and impacts strain on your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
  • Hold the steering wheel at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions as this helps relax shoulder muscles. Avoid reaching across your body to hold your steering wheel with one hand draping over the top of the wheel.
  • Remove items from your back pocket so that your hips set parallel on the seat.

Also, don’t rush, give yourself time to get to where you are going. Play some relaxing music, sing, stretch your hands, and wiggle your toes when you are at stop signs. Don’t get caught up in road rage, and try to make the best of your drive.

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