I bought a new car recently with lots of seat adjustment options, but I can't seem to get my seating position right. Can you help me out with any tips? -Rolf in Winnipeg
Many of us don't think once, let alone twice, about our posture while driving. While an incorrect posture may have a small impact for infrequent drivers, it can take a substantial toll on those who regularly commute or drive for a living.
Sitting in a vehicle is quite different than lounging in a kitchen or office chair – especially when you're in the driver's seat. Not only is your mobility limited by the constraints of the cabin, your hands and arms must always be available to the steering wheel, your feet dedicated to the pedals, and your attention focused forward.
It's a big plus that you own a vehicle with multiple seat adjustment options. A study on the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders among drivers conducted at Loughborough University in the U.K. found that the drivers of cars with the most adjustable driving packages (i.e. a highly adjustable steering wheel and seat) were also those who reported less discomfort and absence from work due to low back trouble.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers guidelines for driving and posture. To begin, CCOHS technical specialist Dhananjai Borwankar recommends positioning your seat as low and far back as it will go, moving the steering wheel as close to you as possible, and placing the seat back at a 30-degree recline from vertical.
Once you're in the initial setup position, raise the seat height to allow good visibility over the steering wheel and through the front windshield, and move the seat forward so that you can comfortably reach the pedals.
"You don't want to just toe-touch, you want to be able to depress the pedals with your full foot. Once you've done that, look at the seat cushion angle. One of the keys is to have even pressure throughout your thighs, but if possible at the same time you want a two-three centimetre space between the back of your knee and the seat cushion. If there is no space, it can put pressure on the back of the knee, which can limit blood flow to the lower extremities, which can cause discomfort and other problems further down the line," says Borwankar.
Once you've adjusted the seat cushion tilt, adjust the back rest so that your head is in a neutral position – so it neither bends backward or tilts forward. Then adjust the lumbar to match the curve of your lower back. Finally, make sure you're not overreaching for the steering wheel; rather than extending your arms straight out, maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
When you're finished these steps, you should have good posture for driving, though you may have to repeat and make minor adjustments until you're in a neutral, comfortable position.
If you need more assistance, The Centre for Driving Ergonomics at Loughborough University has developed a vehicle ergonomics best-practice guide. It's a simple guide with pictorials and step-by-step instructions on how to adjust the driving cab for good posture. This can be found online, along with a vehicle selection checklist, at drivingergonomics.com.
If you're in doubt about how to operate any of your adjustment control options, refer to your vehicle owners' manual. Be pro-active and spend time figuring out your ideal driving position to avoid feeling discomfort. If you have further questions or are already experiencing pain of any kind, consult a health professional.
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