Ergonomic Tips for Driving

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Driving significantly increases stresses and discomfort to the lower back, upper back and neck. Additional discomfort might also include lower limb and/or foot cramping and sore shoulders caused by poor posture, stress and tension. Improperly adjusted seating has been associated with long term joint, muscle and spinal injuries. In the UK, the frequency of injuries has been significant enough that they have even coined the term “Repetitive Driving Injury” (RDI) to describe injuries associated with driving.

A study in the UK reported that 81% of British drivers suffer from foot cramps, 74% from lumbar pain, 74% experience a stiff neck, 74% have side aches and 73% have headaches/eye strain.

Research has indicated that as many as 48% of drivers could be RDI sufferers. It’s also likely that the frequency of these injuries increases for folks who drive for a living (i.e. delivery drivers, sales staff, consultants, etc.), which may be cause for alarm amongst companies with these types of jobs. In order to reduce injury risk, there are two key factors to consider:

  1. Vehicle seat and control adjustability.
  2. Proper ergonomic set-up of the seat and associated equipment.

Proper fit in a vehicle is important for comfort; most vehicles provide sufficient adjustment options (e.g. (i.e. seat height, seat angle, backrest angle, lumbar support as well as steering wheel and armrest adjustments) to allow the driver to achieve good ergonomic set-up but it’s not uncommon to find drivers in awkward (and potentially harmful) positions. To achieve good ergonomics set-up while seated in a vehicle, follow these suggestions:

Image courtesy of Highway Agency, UK

  • Raise the seat height until your hips and knees are aligned. This posture will decrease the amount of back flexion.
  • Position the seat so that you can reach and completely depress the foot pedals without coming away from the backrest. Ideally, your knees should be slightly bent throughout this process.
  • 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 at 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 (in Canada 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.

Don’t forget about the passenger! If you have jobs that require drivers travel with a partner for deliveries, etc. be sure to focus on adjustability in the passenger seat as well. Although driver seat adjustability has come a long way, the adjustments found in a passenger seat are often still limited. The passenger will experience less of the ergonomic issues associated with driving (i.e. not reaching to the steering wheel or operating a foot pedal), however, they should still be able to adjust the seat height, backrest angle, seat angle and lumbar support (if possible) to create the optimal fit.

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