Proper Driving Ergonomics

Summer in America typically means vacation, and the #1 vacation Americans take is the Road Trip.  According to a recent survey by Bridgestone Tires, 83% of Americans plan on taking a road trip this summer.  Furthermore, AAA Newsroom has an article indicating that more than 34.8 Million people will be taking a road trip just for the 4th of July weekend!

Blurred TrafficUnfortunately, prolonged driving can increase the likelihood of having a Low Back Pain (LBP) occurrence, up to 51% in professional drivers (1).  Some research suggests that Americans have a 1.6-2.0x greater chance of having LBP(2).  Factors that contribute to this are: prolonged driving (3), and whole-body vibration (WBV) (4).

With summer officially here it sounds like a great time to review proper driving ergonomics in an effort to help prevent an episode of LBP from stopping your trip in it’s tracks.

  • To start, sit in your car and put the seat all the way back, all the way down to the floor, and tilt it back about 40-50 degrees.  Move the Steering wheel all the way up and away from you.
  • Move the seat height up until your hips are inline with your knees and you do not have to alter your head position (bent down or to the side) to clearly see the road or dashboard.
  • Move the seat forward until you can reach the pedals and push them all the way down without moving your back from the seat.
  • Next, tilt the seat back forward until your hips make about a 100-110 degree angle with your trunk in an effort to decrease the pressure on your lumbar spine.
  • In this position, now adjust your headrest so the middle of the back of your head rests against it.
  • Adjust the lumbar support to allow for even pressure across your low back (if your car does not have or provide enough support a lumbar cushion can be added to provide the appropriate support).
  • Tilt your seat cushion to rest evenly across the back of your legs  and away from the back of your knees to avoid restricted circulation in areas of greater pressure.
  • In this position you can now adjust the seat belt to accommodate your new position.
  • Now bring the steering wheel down and toward you; instead of ‘10 and 2’ positioning adjust the steering wheel to comfortably drive at ‘9 and 3’ to further minimize reach and decrease the strain on your neck and upper back.
  • Finally, adjust your mirrors to your new position. Down the road if the mirrors need to be readjusted that is a cue to readjust your sitting posture.

Remember, Safety is your 1st concern, never make an adjustment that would obstruct your view of the road, your mirrors, or your dashboard.

1. JC Chen, WR Chang, W Chang, D Christiani. Occupational factors associated with low back pain in urban taxi drivers. Occup Med (Lond) (October 2005) 55 (7): 535-540.

2. Guo HR, Tanaka S, Cameron LL et al. Back pain among workers in the United States: national estimates and workers at high risk. Am J Ind Med 1995;28:591–602.

3. Krause N, Ragland DR, Greiner BA, Fisher JM, Holman BL, Selvin S. Physical workload and ergonomic factors associated with prevalence of back and neck pain in urban transit operators. Spine 1997;22:2117–2126 [discussion 2127].

4. Bovenzi M, Hulshof CT. An updated review of epidemiologic studies on the relationship between exposure to whole-body vibration and low back pain (1986–1997). Int Arch Occup Environ Health 1999;72:351–365.