Laptops in Vehicles

Over the past decade or so, we have begun to realize that sitting for extended periods of time is detrimental to our health. While driving, the seated posture is further challenged by vibration, which acts as another ergonomic hazard (especially for long drives). Staying seated in one posture for a long period of time causes a phenomenon called creep in our ligaments. Essentially, our ligaments lose their function and cannot maintain joint stability at their end range of motion. Therefore, it is discouraged to perform any form of force exertion such as lifting or pushing after prolonged driving, which may increase the risk of injury.

Laptop use in vehicles complicates this even further; the steering wheel, transmission shifter, radio, and climate controls in workplace vehicles make it difficult to fit a fully functional laptop in a position that allows for neutral back, neck, and upper limb postures.

The most common laptop fittings position the laptop within the vehicle's center console. This requires the driver to twist to the right side, reach with their right (and left) arm, and look to the right side and down.

Depending on various factors (i.e. exposure time, body dimensions, vehicle size), discomfort may arise from holding these postures making the position of the laptop an important ergonomic factor for those workers using one in a vehicle.

What can be done?

As laptops in vehicles are unlikely to be eliminated for some workers (i.e. police, EMS), consideration of the position and flexibility of the laptop placement will give the workers the best ergonomic options.

Vehicles with laptops could be mounted on an adjustable laptop arm. These should allow the driver more freedom to position the laptop as closely as possible to their body so as to minimize the reaching required to operate it. Ideally the laptop screen and keyboard would be split so that the driver would not have to look down while viewing the screen. The keyboard would ideally be positioned so that the driver can type with a wrist angle as close to neutral (straight) as possible. In cases where the driver is not driving and has the vehicle parked, it would be ideal if the laptop could be removed from the mount. This would allow them to position the laptop directly in front of them and eliminate right side reaching.

An adjustable laptop arm and a removable laptop are two examples of quick changes that can be made to immediately improve the ergonomics of laptop use in the vehicle.

As with any ergonomic changes made, it's important that staff are trained on how to best position the equipment. Adjustability means that workers can achieve the best possible position but without training, it's unlikely they will get there on their own. Develop a training plan or video to educate staff about how to properly set-up and use any adjustable equipment they may have.

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