The expression “in the driver’s seat” has become associated with being in control or having power over a situation. But when you get behind the wheel and into an actual car seat, you’re often at the mercy of the manufacturer’s design and specifications. Any cowboy will tell you that the quality of their saddles makes a world of difference at the end of a long day’s riding; in similar fashion, every driver would do well to ensure the comfort and quality of their seats. Here’s what you need to know.
Factoring into safety
A prospective car owner will probably want to take their preferred model for a test drive, but even after half an hour of testing, you may not yet have a fully accurate impression of the long-term comfort of its seats. In occupational driving, it’s well-known that fatigue and discomfort are substantial factors contributing to the risk of vehicle accidents; conservative estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) peg the number at 100,000 collisions annually. Further exacerbating the problem is the tendency of many drivers to adjust their seat belts for additional slack or sliding the lap portion of the belt onto the soft stomach area, which is an incorrect position and can lead to fatal consequences in the event of a collision. Even if you don’t intend to drive for several hours, today’s busy work schedules and lifestyles can easily lead to a scenario where you get behind the wheel already feeling exhausted or lacking sleep. Under such conditions, dealing with the distraction of an uncomfortable car seat can be the last thing you need.
Differences in measurements
As any clothing retailer will tell you, one size does not fit all; yet due to the demands and constraints of mass production, car manufacturers are often forced to limit the specifications of their seats. For any driver whose proportions might be even slightly off the average in terms of torso or leg length, this means that more adjustment is required to make their sitting position comfortable.
Variables like our stature, body type, weight, and body mass index (BMI) are called anthropometrics, and can not only affect individual comfort in a car seat, but also functional performance. Long torsos tend to slump against the backrest; short legs may have less contact with the floor. Recent innovations, such as power seats and movable cushions, allow for a greater range of adjustment to accommodate differences in our anthropometrics. Although not a component of the seat itself, tilting or telescoping steering wheels also help to compensate for any lack of adjustment in the seat.
Office workers can feel tired after a shift involving several hours of little activity beyond sitting at a desk; poor ergonomic features are a likely factor underlying this problem. While sitting behind the wheel is somewhat different, long-term health issues can still be a problem. You won’t be at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, but over the years, poor body posture and vibration transmission can lead to repetitive driving injury (RDI) – these can manifest as foot cramps, a stiff neck, sore shoulders, and other musculoskeletal aches and pains, especially in the lower back. If you still feel unsatisfied with the overall comfort of your driving position, adding third-party support features such as lumbar cushions or head rests can greatly improve the ergonomic experience – and your health in the years to come.
The comfort of a driver’s seat has far-reaching implications; take the appropriate steps and be in true control over your ride.