The 2016 Road Safety Week campaign ran from May 17th to May 23rd and during this week, the campaign, which is based on a police initiative to prevent road accidents, highlighted ways in which motorists and other road users can be safe. The campaign functions as a reminder that enforcement of the law protects and saves lives, for all motorists and road users.
This year, the Canada Safety Council (a nonprofit, independent organization) added its support to the cause by offering information on their website on how to reduce the strain on your muscles while driving. The potential for musculoskeletal and repetitive strain injury due to driving is an issue that gets little attention but can affect drivers of all ages. The Canada Safety Council warns that injuries caused while driving, such as back strain and pain, can actually increase the risk of being involved in a car crash.
Sitting in a chair is vastly different from sitting in a car seat, especially when behind the wheel and for long periods of time. A driver’s limbs are extended at an angle and partly absorbing all the vibrations of a moving vehicle on the road. The effects of this are increased the longer the duration of a drive. Professional drivers are significantly more likely to develop musculoskeletal injuries (MSI) which are borne out of lengthened and repetitive bad postures while driving. This affects the tendons, blood vessels and spinal discs in a person’s body, which can intensify and worsen over time.
Here are some tips that can help improve your posture and reduce pain while driving:
Adjust your Seat: The height of your seat is extremely important. The higher the seat, the more advantageous but you should also be comfortable and not slouching. Your head should not be touching the roof and your view of the road should not be impeded by anything within the car. The ideal positioning for legs is having your knees bent between a 120°-135° angle. You should also be able to easily rest your wrists on the steering wheel, and this can serve as a guide to how far back your seat should be extended.
Elbow Positioning: Many drivers feel relaxed with their elbows resting on the driver door while driving. This is not a good practise, as it can cause the rest of your body, specifically the shoulders, to adopt a posture that is detrimental to the rest of your body. Your elbows should be lower than the wheel and closer to your body. Driving with both hands on the wheel is not only recommended and safer but it can also help improve your posture by minimizing the rotation of your spine.
Lumbar Support: More vehicles today are outfitted with lumbar support in the driver’s seat. This will support the natural curve in your back and help prevent the slouching that is often associated with driving.
Steering Wheel: You should adjust the steering wheel to a height that is comfortably above your thighs but still allows a clear view of your dashboard display. This helps allow you to be comfortable and minimize stretching and slouching while driving.
Mirror Positioning: Your mirrors should always be adjusted to suit your correct sitting position to ensure that there is little to no twisting of your neck or back. You should never be adjusting your body to suit your mirrors.
There are many exercises, which you can take advantage of while behind the wheel, although they should not interfere with your focus on the road. Here are a few simple suggestions that a driver can perform as needed.
Spine Stretching: If stuck in traffic, especially when driving long distances, you can place your hands on the steering wheel at the 10/2 position if they are not already in that form. Then, gently pull on the steering wheel, round your back and inhale. After holding that breath in for around ten seconds, release it slowly while straightening your back. This will allow your spine to elongate and stretch.
Release tension: If your vehicle has stopped (at a red light, during traffic or you were pulled over) try tilting your right ear down in the direction of your right shoulder. Breathe in and hold for about ten seconds then straighten your neck. Repeat on the opposite side to even out the stretching.
Take a break: Every two hours or as often as needed, it is a good idea to pull over, get out of the car and fully stretch your muscles. This action can take as little as five minutes, but may eliminate the stiffness and pain that often results from a long drive.
Being comfortable and relaxed while driving may actually decrease the likelihood of a car accident, as a driver who is stiff, cramped and in pain, may experience muscle spasms and other distractions that can negatively impact their ability to react to unexpected driving situations.
Passengers tend to experience less back pain, neck pain, and other injuries, than drivers, because they are able to stretch and frequently change position while riding in the vehicle. However, even passengers should be mindful of how they are sitting. Passengers should ALWAYS have their seatbelt on and feet should be resting comfortably on the floor of the vehicle. If a vehicle is involved in a collision while a passenger has their feet on the dashboard or anywhere else other than the floor, the passenger can experience serious and catastrophic injuries when their airbag deploys, if their body is thrust forward, or if part of the vehicle is crushed against them.
Drivers who already suffer from MSI are at a higher risk of car crashes than uninjured drivers, according to the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. This is a compelling argument for taking steps to improve posture and other simple actions to reduce the likelihood of developing injuries associated with driving.
If you or a family member was injured in a motor vehicle accident, call Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan to understand your legal rights and find out what’s involved in obtaining deserved compensation for your injuries and losses.