I drive. A lot.
I live in the suburbs and the majority of my life happens in the city, meaning there’s a good deal of commuting in my week. I love my car, but even the most comfortable seat won’t feel good for long periods of time if not positioned correctly. Not to mention, a car seat must be positioned properly for safety’s sake, too. Driving 6 inches away from the steering wheel is no safe.
40% of us claim that sitting causes back and neck pain. Forty-freakin-percent. That’s a lot of us feeling pretty, pretty uncomfortable. Sitting too close, too far, too high, too low, without lumbar support, without your wheel at the right distance and level will all affect how you feel when driving and how safe you are. Sitting too close to the wheel, for example, which is especially prevalent among shorter drivers under 5 feet, 4 inches, can be fatal.
Sorry to be grim here – but according to research, sitting too close to the wheel can lead to serious injury or death from an inflated airbag. Upon inflation, an airbag comes toward a driver at 200 miles per hour for 12 to 18 inches, and generates a force of 2,000 pounds. Yikes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety consider 10 inches to be a safe distance from the air bag, meaning that should inform how far you are seated from the wheel.
But seating position also affects the health and comfort of your neck, shoulders, back, bum, shoulders and arms, too. You may not even realize that they way your are sitting affects the way your body feels. The good news is, now you’re going to find out exactly how to position your car seat for maximum comfort and safety. Look at you being all gown up!
There are five key areas to adjust: head rest, seat back, seat height, seat distance and lumbar support.
This is designed to protect your head in case of impact, and having the right position will protect you as much as possible from whiplash. Having the top of the headrest match the top of your head is ideal. Just use your hand as a guide – it should sense the top of your head and the top of the headrest are at the same level. If the head rest is positioned too high, it will push your head forward (dislike). I have to adjust the headrest slightly down when I wear my hair up, because my hair pushes the back of my head too forward at the height I normally have it at.
Your seat back position affects your comfort and safety while driving. Hunching has never been, nor will ever be chic – if your seat is too far back, you’ll either hunch over to see the road and reach the wheel or drive like you’re filming a music video from 2002 – one hand on the wheel, and the rest of you reclining, in your fur coat holding your pimp cup (btw, you can’t see anything when you sit like this). Plus, when reclining said music video style, to actually drive, you’d have to reach too far to get the wheel and pull your shoulders off the seat back, which makes things even more uncomfortable. Ok. Now you know what not to do.
To get the correct seat pitch, adjust so that it is slightly greater than a 90 degree angle, which takes the pressure off your lower back and upper legs. Your arms should be comfortably bent at the elbow when holding the wheel at 9:15 and 2:45, and when you make a turn, your arm should still have a slight bend at the elbow, which means that your shoulder doesn’t have to come off the back of the seat, which is ergonomically correct.
You adjust this next, raising or lowering the seat so that you can see over the dashboard and have a clear view of the road. You want a bit of a distance between your head and the roof of the car, don’t get right up into your sunroof. You’ll know you’ve adjusted it properly when your knees have a slight bend, giving you enough range to easily access the brakes, gas and clutch, especially if you need to access these quickly in a dangerous situation. You shouldn’t have to work hard to reach them – meaning you can access your pedals without having to lift your heel off the ground.
This has to do with the actual bum part of the seat and how close or far it is to the wheel. In case you’ve missed the memo (but you haven’t), you want a safe distance between your body and the wheel in the event you get hit. The ideal cushion position will have you sit far enough back from the wheel where you have a slight bend – a little more than 90 degrees in your arm, your legs have a slight bend – a little more than 90 degrees, too, when holding the wheel at 9:15 and 2:45. This will also help avoid that shoulder crunch in the event you’re sitting too close to the wheel. This is a good fine-tuner after you’ve adjusted your seat back and seat height.
This is pure comfort zone, if you’ve got it. While at first, it may feel like being poked in the back by a hefty-sized dog, it’ll eventually grow on you, your lower back can just sink into it without having to try to hold position. Adjust the little air balloon, if you can, to perfectly fit the curve of your back. This will make sitting infinitely more comfortable.
So now that you know, before you hit the road for your next journey, take a couple of minutes and make these five small but critical adjustments. You’re driving game will be seriously upped (and more comfortable). Now if only I could do something about rush hour traffic…