MSK: Ergonomics When Driving

Driving Ergonomics

Driving ergonomics is described as “fitting the driver to their car so they can drive in a way that maximizes the natural ability of their body to move and respond to physical stress”.

Just think about the amount of time you spend driving - appointments, errands, commuting, travel, etc. If it’s part of your job, you may spend a great deal of time driving. Drivers may develop:

  • Generalized discomfort

  • Low back pain

  • Arm fatigue

  • Neck stiffness

  • Shoulder or hip soreness

  • Hand or foot cramping

Ergonomics is essential when driving - while in your car, or a work vehicle, you should take appropriate steps to protect your muscles, joints, and bones. The same steps can help to prevent musculoskeletal discomfort and fatigue, as well as possible injury.

What can you do to ensure optimal driving ergonomics i.e. to prevent or lessen discomfort or injury? The solutions follow.

Note: graphics are based on U.S. standards.

Aligned, Symmetric, Neutral, And Relaxed

Keep the following terms in mind: aligned, symmetric, neutral, and relaxed. They will guide you in the overall ergonomic approach.

  • Aligned. Your spine should be straight.

  • Symmetric. The left and right sides of your body should be balanced.

  • Neutral. Your joints should be stressed as little as possible.

  • Relaxed. Your muscles should not be tense or tight.

Driving Ergonomic Specifics

Most of the ergonomic impact of driving is related to you and the driver’s seat (this is very similar to how a person fits in their office chair in their workspace). The rest involves the steering wheel, headrest, mirrors, etc.

Seatback

It is best to slightly recline the back of your seat so that the angle at your hips is about 100- to 110 degrees - a little more than a right angle. This lessens the pressure on your back.

Seat Pan

The seat pan is the surface of your seat. Your tailbone should be at the back of the seat pan, where it meets the bottom of the seatback. 

You should have space between the back of your knees and the front of the seat (at least two fingers wide). You may use your car’s lumbar support, if equipped, or add a small pillow to create the space.

Adjust the seat pan so that the seat supports the entire length of your thighs.

Distance From Pedals

Make sure you are at the correct distance from the gas and brake pedals so that you can easily reach them. You should not be too close as it increases the risk of serious injuries if an accident occurs.

Seat Height

Your line of sight should be at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) above the steering wheel. 

Headrest

To help protect your neck, adjust the headrest so it is above your ears and gently touches, or is a small distance from, the back of your head.

Mirrors

To help prevent neck strain, position the mirrors so you can use them without twisting or stretching your neck

Steering Wheel 

You should place your hands in the 9 and 3 position with your elbows close to your sides

Taking Breaks

Breaks are an important part of ergonomics. Plan to take breaks before you feel discomfort. 

If you are driving for long periods, find a rest stop or another safe place. Get out of the car, walk around, and stretch your joints and muscles. Experts recommend taking a break at least every 2 hours and driving no more than 8 hours per day.

Getting In and Out of Your Vehicle

Getting in and out of a car can cause undue stress on your muscles and joints. The following method helps to make it safe and easy, although you may use the more common one-leg-at-a-time method.

Getting In

  1. Once you open the door, face away from the car and sit down with your feet outside the car.  Use the steering wheel, seat, etc. for support.

  2. With your feet together swing them into the car. 

Getting Out

  1. Once you open the door, with your feet together swing them onto the ground. 

  2. Use the steering wheel, seat, etc. for support as you push to a standing position.

You may need additional help depending on your size (e.g. tall) or the size of your vehicle (e.g. SUV). Your coach can provide support and additional resources.