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Ergonomic Driving Tips and Information

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
By Anne Kramer

Most of us are aware of the perils of performing routine tasks without regard for our ergonomic safety. We know that we’re supposed to maintain proper posture and typing positions while at the office, lift chairs and other relatively heavy objects around the house with our legs and not our backs, and even to sleep with a pillow between our knees. But what many people fail to consider in the hustle and bustle of their daily lives is their ergonomic well-being while traveling to and from these familiar places – in the car.

Yes, it may be an afterthought for many, but the truth is that depending on where you live, you may spend a good portion of your day behind the wheel. In fact, the average American spends three hours per day in a car. That’s more than 20% of your waking life! So while it remains paramount that your job involves no ergonomically hazardous activities, it is also very important that you consider how your driving may be negatively affecting your health.

There are a few steps you can take to vastly improve both your comfort and ergonomic safety, but your driving ability as well.

  1. Properly Adjust the Driver’s Seat

    The first step to "ergo-safing" your daily commute is adjusting the driver’s seat. A properly configured driver’s seat will allow you to properly adjust your mirrors and steering wheel later in this guide. There are a few adjustments that can be made on most every driver’s seat, regardless of the car’s make or model.

    Seat-Back Angle: Your seat-back should not be too relaxed, nor should it shove your body into the steering wheel. As a general rule, adjust the seat-back such that your shoulders are sitting just behind your hips. This usually occurs when the seat-back forms a 100° angle with the seat itself.

    Seat Height: The height of your driver’s seat is important for several reasons, including air bag safety. As far as ergonomics go however, it is recommended that you raise your seat such that you have a good view of the road, but not so high that the seat interferes with the circulation to your legs, or that your legs touch the steering wheel.

    Leg Room: While ample leg room ensures comfort while driving, giving yourself too much space may impair your ability to make sudden driving corrections, such as braking. Your seat should be adjusted such that you are able to fully depress the gas, brake, and in the case of a manual transmission, clutch pedals using only your ankle. This will usually allow a slight bend in your knee, which is desirable not only for circulation, but comfort as well.

    lumbar cushionLumbar Adjustment: The driver’s seat of many modern automobiles includes a lumbar adjustment for optimum comfort. As in any seat which includes such an adjustment, the lumbar cushion should support the natural curve of your spine – not force it. If your car does not feature lumbar support, consider retro-fitting your driver’s seat with an aftermarket lumbar cushion.

  2. Properly Adjust the Mirrors

    Keeping your mirrors in the appropriate positions can promote proper posture while driving. It is ideal to calibrate the mirrors after you have properly adjusted your driver’s seat in every way, and while you’re stationary – preferably in your driveway. For safety reasons, do not attempt to adjust your mirrors while driving.

    In short, your mirrors, both side and rear-view should be adjusted such that you maintain a view of all objects outside of your peripheral view. For most automobiles, this means adjusting your side mirrors such that they narrowly display the rear quarter-panels (the metal above the rear wheels) of your car, and the rear-view mirror such that you can narrowly see the top “lip” of your trunk.

  3. Properly Adjust the Steering Wheel

    The Palm RestWhile it’s true that adjusting the steering wheel is more about being able to fully see your instrument cluster, it is also very important for your ergonomic health. Many people fail to realize that having your steering wheel too close to your body, or at an improper angle can force your wrist into unsafe positions, and cause you to engage unnecessary muscles while driving.

    Make sure your steering wheel is set so that were you to lock your wrists in a straight line, you would still be able to comfortably drive your car. In addition, the wheel should not be adjusted such that you must “reach” for it. Doing so requires the twisting and turning of your torso, which can lead to muscle injury.

    For additional support consider adding The Palm Rest to your steering wheel. The Palm Rest comfortably positions your palm and wrist on the steering wheel to allow for longer driving with less muscle effort. The Pam Rest has been shown to reduce muscle effort by up to 76%.

Further to this list, as with any activity in which one spends a long period of time sitting, it is important to take breaks. Every two hours, pull over to the side of the road, get out, and take a 5 minute stroll. Not only does this promote blood flow, but it can change your outlook on what might otherwise be a long and monotonous drive.

Common sense is the name of the game when making ergonomic adjustments to your daily drive. It’s usually just a matter of taking the time to make these considerations.

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