Skip to main content
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
USDA FAQ's and resources about coronavirus (COVID-19).  LEARN MORE

Driving Ergonomics

Surprisingly, many ergonomic risk factors (e.g., awkward postures, excessive force, and vibration) exist in relation to driving. Such risk factors become increasingly apparent during distance driving. Driving ergonomics has an overall goal of fitting the driver to their car so they can drive in a way that maximizes the natural ability of their body to move and respond to physical stress.

Driving puts an employee at greater risk for low back trouble than sitting and standing jobs/activities. Thus, the frequency of discomfort increases with the number of miles driven on an annual basis.

Commonly reported discomforts include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Foot cramps
  • Stiff neck
  • Sore shoulders
  • Finger cramps

Causes of such discomfort often involve the following:

  • The shape of the vehicle seat, as it may put pressure on selected parts of the legs, back and buttocks.
    • This contact can lead to pain or discomfort at pressure points and may affect blood flow to the legs and feet.
  • Low frequency whole-body vibration in moving cars and trucks, which can contribute to effects on the lower back and performance problems.
  • Poor driving conditions for which your body experiences up-and-down vibrations from the car travelling on uneven or bumpy road surfaces.
    • The body moves sideways when you turn on corners.
    • Depending on how fast you accelerate or decelerate, you will feel a force on your body.

Tips to improve your driving habits start with reading the vehicle manual and understanding all the adjustments that you can do. Many vehicles allow for the following adjustments:

  • Seat position;
  • Backrest angle;
  • Headrest position;
  • Steering wheel height and tilt;
  • Seat belt;
  • Mirrors.

It is also important to do the following whether driving short or long distances:

  • Take stretch breaks every 3-4 hrs;
  • Use a seat lumbar support;
  • Adjust seat & steering wheel to your comfort level;
  • Consider the use of a lap buddy or laptop mount;
  • Work from passenger or back seat;
  • Get plenty of rest at night.

The following driving practices should be avoided

  • Drive without taking a break;
  • Use laptop in passenger seat while you are still seated in the driver's seat;
  • Rest arms on console or windowsill;
  • The obvious (e.g. writing, reading, eating, drinking, etc.).

Overall, it is important to recognize that poor seated postures are generally considered to contribute to WMSDs. Good posture is a key feature in the prevention of back pain during driving tasks. However, even good postures can result in discomfort. Thus, it is important to note that no single posture is ideal if maintained for long periods of time. Adopting a range of comfortable postures, and frequent changes of posture, may help to delay the onset of discomfort in driving.

Complementary Content