Unlike being seated at a desk or on a couch, seating position while driving can be crucial to the continued well-being of the driver, occupants and others around them.
Proper seating position can help keep you safer in the event of a crash. But just exactly what is “proper” position varies with each individual driver’s body size and dimensions.
One of the greatest drivers to ever race, five-time World driving champion Juan Manuel Fangio, recognized the individual importance of sitting at the wheel, calling it “a very personal matter” and “one which you must work out for yourself.” The main thing, he stressed, “is to be comfortable and to have all the controls within easy reach.”
A vehicle can’t be driven efficiently or effectively if its driver can’t reach the pedals without stretching, or if your back hurts from sitting for extended periods without support, or you can’t see what’s behind you.
So, here is our guide to finding the best seating position for you:
First things first: buckle your seat belt. There’s a reason why racing drivers strap themselves into their cars so securely: in the event of a collision or rollover, you’re far safer being securely belted inside the vehicle than banging around inside it unbelted, or worse, being thrown outside.
Assume the position
The Ontario Driver’s Handbook advises drivers to “get into position” before even turning the ignition. You should sit high enough in the driver’s seat to see over the steering wheel and hood, and be able to see the ground four metres ahead of the vehicle.
Sit with your lower back firmly against the seat. Then, start with the pedals; you should be able to depress the brake or clutch pedal all the way without having to stretch. Try placing your feet flat on the floor under the brake pedal. Your knees should still be slightly bent. Your legs should not be straight. This, “keeps you in the proper, upright position and gives you more stability when manoeuvering.”
If your car is equipped with an adjustable headrest, the back of your head should be directly in front of the middle of the headrest to best protect against whiplash in the event you’re hit from behind.
When it comes to headroom, there should be at least a fist-length between the top of your head and the roof.
A United States Air Force booklet for pilots that states driving is “more complicated than piloting,” offers some good tips for attaining both comfort behind the wheel and maintaining situational awareness, something that pilots (and drivers) need to have in spades.
How to Survive the Traffic Jungle, by the Aerospace Education Foundation, advises drivers to sit so that the shoulders rest easily against the seatback and not be hunched forward. This is crucial for the next step.
Fine tuning the reach
Move the seatback until your arms have to be straight in front of you to grasp the top of the steering wheel. In vehicles with steering wheels that are adjustable for reach and rake (angle), adjust so that your wrists touch the top of the wheel when you have your arms straight out in front.
“That’s your proper distance.”
Bring down your hands to the three-and-nine position, which in doing so should give your arms a slight bend at the elbows.
Hold the wheel easily, not tightly, with both hands. “A light grip gives you a better idea of how the car responds to the road surface, tells you how your traction is, and helps you feel but not be jarred too much” by bumps, potholes and road irregularities.
Enhance steering ‘feel’
Move the wheel with your thumbs, using the arms’ strong yet remarkably sensitive forearm muscles to optimize “steering feel,” and to pull the wheel in the direction you want to go instead of pushing it. (ie: To make a left turn, with your hands starting from nine and three o’clock, pull down on the wheel with your left hand towards six o’clock while your right hand rises towards 12.)
This leads intuitively to fewer degrees of turn in the amount of steering used, which works to greater effect than “sawing away” with arms and elbows flailing.
Maximize your ability to know what’s happening around you by using your rear- and side-view mirrors to their full potential.
If you can see your face in the rear-view mirror, or the sides of your vehicle in the side-views, you are restricting the amount of critical information they can feed to you at a glance.
Reduce blind spots
Adjust the rear-view mirror so that you can almost see the edge of your right (inside) ear; then adjust each side-view mirror outward to just beyond the sides of the vehicle. That will extend your field of vision to the sides and behind and reduce “blind spots” to the minimum.
Adjust heating/cooling/ventilation and select a radio station or music before driving.
You should now be good to go, positioned to control the vehicle to the best of its abilities, and to enjoy a comfortable ride that won’t leave you calling for a chiropractor before reaching your destination.