Good Driving Posture

A number of clients have asked for advice on how to ensure good posture when driving. Significant stress can occur in the neck and the upper and lower back as a result of sitting incorrectly when driving, particularly for prolonged periods of time.

Skeleton driving - shape of the spine

Those who drive cars as part of their job, for example, sales people, are at particular risk. This risk is increased for those who drive for 20 hours per week or more (Porter and Gyi, 2002). High exposure drivers are considered to be those who drive more than 25000 miles a year, or for more than 4 hours a day.

Driving forces us to sit in a constrained posture. In addition, the car is increasingly being used as a mobile office (e.g. using a laptop and making telephone calls), which has other associated health risks. Research shows that within a group of business drivers, 65% reported low back pain, 43% neck problems and 40% shoulder discomfort (Gyi et al., 2003).

Based on extensive research into business driving and ergonomics, scientists in the Design and Technology department at Loughborough University have developed guidelines on the best seating position and posture to avoid the pain caused by musculoskeletal disorders…

General driving advice

Any posture, no matter how good it is, can lead to discomfort if it is held for too long. Sitting in the same position for long hours, gripping the steering wheel and being exposed to vibration from the road can contribute to wear and tear on the neck and back.  Here are are a number of things you can do to reduce your chances of suffering pain and discomfort:

  • Vary your work activities as much as possible during the day so that your posture changes. Try not to keep the same role for more than four hours.
  • Take a break from driving every couple of hours.
  • Make sure you get out of the vehicle as often as possible, move about and carry out small stretches if you can.
  • When you’ve been driving for a long period, avoid doing any sudden intense physical activity (such as lifting, bending or stretching) without warming up first.
  • Make small adjustments to your driving position at regular intervals throughout your journey.
  • Ensure you are sitting correctly.  See image (moustache best avoided…yikes!) and step-by-step guide below.

Ideal driving posture

How to find the correct sitting position when driving

Start with the initial set-up position, where adjustable, i.e:

  • Steering wheel fully up and fully forward.
  • Seat height at its lowest.
  • Seat cushion tilted so that front edge is in lowest position.
  • Back rest approximately 30 degrees reclined from vertical.
  • Lumbar adjustment backed off.
  • Seat fully rearwards.

From this initial set-up position, follow steps 1-8 below.

1) Raise the seat as high as is comfortable to improve your vision of the road.

  • Check you have adequate clearance from the roof.
  • Ensure you have maximum vision of the road.

2) Move the seat forwards until you can easily fully depress the clutch pedal and the accelerator pedal.

  • Adjust the seat height as necessary to give good pedal control.

3) Adjust the seat cushion tilt angle so that the thighs are supported along the length of the cushion.

  • Avoid pressure behind the knee.

4) Adjust the backrest so it provides continuous support along the length of the back and is in contact up to shoulder height.

  • Avoid reclining the seat too far as this can cause excessive forwards bending of the head and neck and you may feel your thighs sliding forwards on the seat cushion.

5) Adjust the lumbar support to give even pressure along the length of the backrest.

  • Ensure lumbar support fits your back, is comfortable with no pressure points or gaps.

6) Adjust the steering wheel rearwards and downwards for easy reach.

  • Check for clearance with thighs and knees when using pedals.
  • Ensure display panel is in full view and not obstructed.

7) Adjust the head restraint to ensure the risk of injury is reduced in the event of a car accident.

8) Adjust the rear view and side mirrors ensuring that they can be used without excessive straining of the neck or upper body.

Repeat steps 1-8 and fine tune as necessary.

A number of vehicles are limited in the adjustments that can be made to the seat and will therefore not allow you to achieve the best driving posture. Equally, some cars may cause you to adopt a coping posture. For example, limited headroom forces a reclined posture, making reaching the steering wheel a problem. This, in turn leads to excessive forward bending of the head and neck and a slouched posture.  Try to choose a car that is best suited to your size and one with as much flexibility as possible to adjust the sitting position.

Source: Vehicle Ergonomics – Best Practice Guide, Loughborough University for the Highways Agency.

Two examples of bad driving positions…

Bad driving position and footwear

Joe Strummer on Car 1981 by Bob Gruen

[Any excuse to show a favourite photo of Joe Strummer by Bob Gruen.]

To close, a driving-related track from my Road Trip playlist by Joan As Policewoman…