So why do we need to have ergonomics for driving? for most of us, driving our car is the way we can be independent. Driving makes us able to go to the places we want to go, see people we care for and be a part of the community we live in. It is crucial for one’s well-being socially and mentally. Physical, cognitive and sensory changes can challenge our ability to drive safely. The story does not end only due to changes in our abilities. I am sure many of you may have had experiences of back pain, neck pain, leg pain or shoulder pain after a long day and ended up stuck in the traffic for few hours. This is a challenge even for a healthy individual. In this part of ergonomics series, I want to discuss proper positioning and how to get to that positioning while driving.
Few Medical issues Associated with Uncomfortable/unsafe driving :
1. Cervical nerve impingement:
This can cause pain and numbness in neck and arms, making driving difficult.
2. Impaired ROM of neck:
This causes difficulty to move your neck in all direction. You can find some neck exercises here.
3. Low back pain:
Makes it hard to sit for long hours of driving.
4. Poor vision:
this is very important especially during night time. Inability or difficulty to see the road signs, identifying other vehicles on the road or having accurate judgment for distance is very important for safe driving.
5. Hearing problems:
A person may not be able to hear and respond to voices/noises around him while driving.
6. Impaired Cognition:
This is tricky. One can argue if a cognitively impaired person should even be on the roads!! To me, it depends on the severity of impairment. PTs and OTs play a big role in educating a patient and family members if a person is safe to drive or not. In case of mild impairment, we can provide some compensatory techniques or recommend some adjustments of mirrors, seat etc for safety.
7. Inability to focus:
This is usually due to vision issue. I am including this as a different topic as focusing is necessary to follow the roads and navigation.
8. Inability to sit on and stand up from the lower surface:
This is usually due to Weakness in legs. I have many patients’ family members who are unable to drive smaller/ family cars due to low sits.
Ergonomics for a car:
So what can we do to fix these ergonomics? Or how to sit and drive the car comfortably. Below are few options that we can change and adapt based on our body position to make our position more comfortable.
Height of the Steering wheel:
It should be at the level so that driver’s line of sight is above it. The rule of thumb is while looking straight, eyesight should be 3” above the steering wheel.
Distance of the Steering wheel from body/chest:
Normally steering wheel should be 10 + inches away from the body and chest. It is recommended that the steering wheel is tilted towards the chest and not towards the head.
Height of seat:
The sit should be at the level that driver is able to sit with his knee bend to 90 degrees. The height of the seat is also important to make sure the driver has at least 3” of the line of sight above the steering wheel.
Back support angle:
The back should be angled at 90 degrees or more to be comfortable while seated.
At times, the seat belt can be uncomfortable. This can put a lot of pressure either on shoulder or chest area. You can raise the seat, bring the seat back or adjust the seat belt slider to solve this problem.
A driver should know how to adjust side mirrors and rearview mirrors. This seems like a no big deal but it becomes crucial for a person with poor or impaired vision. A slight adjustment in angles and distance of mirrors can avoid many issues with lane changing and merging.
For side mirrors, if adjusted properly, when seated comfortably on driver’s seat, one should barely be able to see the edge of his vehicle.
Many times, I see patients struggling to get in and out of the car due to weakness in legs. I have seen patients pulling really hard on the door. Installing in proper heavy-duty handles inside the car and on the door will make the transfers easy.
Positioning to Gas Pedal and Brake Pedal:
A driver should be able to reach to these pedals without reaching with toes comfortably in order to drive safely.
Weakness in legs due to deconditioning or due to aging affects their ability to quickly depress these pedals quickly when needed. So it is important that we make sure the drivers are able to reach them without many efforts.
Adaptive Equipment for Comfortable Driving:
There are few adaptive pieces of equipment available to adjust various things in a car. Below are the few major instruments that you can install in your car. I also included links to buy this equipment if you wish. These are the same equipment that I order for my loved ones for safety and comfort. Majority of these pieces of equipment are super easy to install.
Handles to get in and out of car:
This product helps to get in and out of the car easy. In addition to that, it is extremely easy to install. I have received many compliments from my patients and their families about this product.
Cushioning for seat belt:
After all the adjustments, if the belt is causing issues on the skin or putting some pressure. You can invest in a small cushioning pad for the belt. You can buy this item here.
Modified arm support to use stick or change gears:
If a person has carpal tunnel syndrome, numbness in arms, weakness in the arm, unable to push the stick with the necessary amount of force, then you may want to consider getting this gazette.
Some more specialized arm support are available that can aid into the comfort level during those long hours of drives.
Larger side mirrors:
This will help to see other vehicles and roads more clearly.
Panoramic (curved) rearview mirror:
One can also install a small convex mirror on a side view mirror. This makes objects seem farther away but it is useful to detect the movement more easily.
This can help with impaired ROM in neck or neck pain. A collar can provide some support and pain relief. There are specialized car neck pillows available as well.
You can buy them here.
It is important to make sure a person has proper eyeglasses. Encouraging your patients for regular eye check-ups and changing the glasses if required is a good idea. Having a pair of sunglasses or regular glasses that can convert into sunglasses are few options. Investing in eyeglasses that can protect with reflections and glares is also a smart move!
To sum it all up:
Remember, we don’t have to be fastest with the fanciest car when it comes to safe driving! It is about proper ergonomics, a good posture with few required adaptive equipment to enjoy driving safely. Safety for ourselves and for others.