You’ve probably read articles about office ergonomics, which explain how to make sure that your chair, desk and computer are fitted for maximum comfort. But what about long-distance travelers? Long road trips will prove uncomfortable if you don’t know about car ergonomics. Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to ensure that you are positioned in the best possible way to enjoy your road trip.
First, what you need to understand is that car ergonomics is important for any time you drive, and not just for eighteen-hour excursions. When you’re going to be in the car for any significant period of time — even on the twenty-minute drive to work — you need to make sure that you are comfortable and positioned correctly. When your body is uncomfortable in your seat, you might experience stress injuries or chronic pain and it may also lead to fatigue, which is definitely dangerous.
Ideally, the seat of your car should be adjustable using either electronic or manual tilt mechanisms. When you sit down, you should be close enough to reach the pedals comfortably, but not so close that the steering wheel is in your lap. Your thighs should be comfortably supported by the seat base, but not so long that the backs of your knees are touching the edge. Car ergonomics also suggests that your knees should be higher than your hips and that the height of your backrest is proportioned to the tops of your shoulders.
If possible, you should have a car that allows you to reach the controls — radio, temperature and vents — without stretching or pulling your right shoulder. You should likewise refrain from resting your elbow on the open window panel or looping your wrist through the steering wheel. One of the major problems that people have when dealing with car ergonomics is the shoulders and neck. If you stretch or position your arms uncomfortably, you could wind up with a stiff neck, which will keep you from driving safely.
When sitting in your car for long road trips, car ergonomics also suggests that your back should be fitted to the back rest. You don’t want to tilt your hips forward so that your spine is bent at an awkward angle, causing lower back pain when you stay in the position for any length of time. Sit so that your back, hips and buttocks are pressed firmly against the seat, and so that your seat belt fits correctly across your front.
The steering wheel is another important factor in car ergonomics. A car with an adjustable tilt (forward, back, up and down) is ideal so that you can find the most comfortable position. However, be sure that you don’t adjust the wheel too far up so that your line of sight is obscured; you always want to be able to see the display panel. You can hold the steering wheel however you’d like, but experts advise you to keep both hands on the wheel to keep your spine and shoulders straight.
While driving, your right foot should be able to shift easily from the brake pedal to the accelerator with no obstructions. Keep your left leg extended next to the pedals (unless you are driving a standard) and use stoplights or traffic to rotate your ankles and increase blood flow to your toes. Never curl your left leg under your right or put your left leg up on the seat because, in addition to the safety hazards, this can also cause problems with your lower back and hips.
Above all, make sure that you have enough room in your car to sit comfortably. Avoid smoking in the car because the irritants in the smoke can cause you to become tired or edgy, and don’t use any deodorizers that might affect your allergies or sinuses. Keep your car clean and free of objects that might obstruct your ability to drive safely and have a passenger adjust the controls if it interferes with car ergonomics.