Hitting the Road Safely

Please note: The following suggestions are intended to help you
improve comfort and decrease risk of minor musculoskeletal injuries
while using the car.
Please note: The following suggestions are intended to help you improve comfort and decrease risk of minor musculoskeletal injuries while using the car. They are not specifically intended to reduce the risk of injury from car accidents. If any of the suggestions do not feel absolutely safe to you, my advice is not to follow them. Always put driving safety first.

Have you noticed how cars have changed over the years? From bucket seats to cup holders, ergonomic advances have played a large part in making our time on the road safer and more comfortable.

But what can you do to maximize your own safety and comfort? Start by adjusting your seat knowledgeably and learning to move safely within the car.

First, adjust your car seat to avoid excessive reaching with the arms or legs without crowding. If safe, sit close enough to drive with your elbows near your sides. Raising the arms out in front can quickly become uncomfortable. Keep in mind that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends keeping at least 10 inches between the source of the airbag and your breastbone.

Then, adjust seat height and angle, if available. Tipping the seat slightly back gives greater back support against the backrest. A level seat or slightly forward tilt can make it easier to maintain the lumbar curve when sitting up straight. This may also enable a small person to reach the pedals and still sit relatively high.

If sitting close enough to the steering wheel puts you too close to the pedals, a higher seat height may help. If your legs are too far from the pedals yet your arms are just right, lowering the seat could do the trick. But note that sitting with your head higher than the steering wheel airbag is recommended.

Now adjust the backrest angle. Back support can be improved by increasing the adjustable lumbar support, adding a rolled towel or a purchased car cushion, and/or tilting the backrest slightly back, allowing gravity to press the spine into the seat. Sitting straight upright for driving is fine too. If you’re very small, a good cushion behind your back can compensate for a too-large seat. Readjust your mirrors if necessary.

Adjust the headrest so it is directly behind your head while allowing a comfortable head position.

Next: know how to move safely in your car. In these days of multi-tasking, we may often be tempted to reach into the back seat to get things we want up front. Many people injure their shoulders or backs doing just that. If you want something from the back seat, wait until the car is stopped. Then either get out of the car and open the back door to get the item, or, remove your seatbelt, recline your seat, roll your body toward the item and use a careful, comfortable reach to retrieve it.

Reaching to the glove box or using the front passenger seat as an office are other activities that, if done carelessly and repeatedly, can cause injury. To reach to the glove box, bend at the hips, keeping your back relatively straight. Even better, with the car stopped, remove your seatbelt and turn your sitting angle to your right, scooting closer to the glove box before reaching. If you’re about to get out of the car anyway, walk around and perch on the passenger seat to access the glove box. And keep the most frequently used items in the center console within easy reach.

When using items on the front passenger seat such as files, binders or a briefcase, again wait until the car is stopped. Scoot your seat back, remove your seatbelt, and rotate your sitting position toward the right. Though not recommended, if you must use a laptop in the car, sit in a passenger seat and use a pillow under the laptop. Remember, too, that these items can become projectiles in an accident. Securing items, especially sharp, hard or heavy ones, is recommended.

To maximize your comfort on the road, adjust your seat to fit your needs, and always move carefully in the car to avoid injuring yourself. This may seem like extra effort, but you’re well worth it!

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