How Car Ergonomics Work

Car Safety Image Gallery University of Iowa researcher Dr. Jeffery Dawson drives a newer version of the Automobile for Research in Ergonomics and Safety (ARGOS) vehicle. It's used to predict safe and unsafe driving abilities in older drivers. See more car safety pictures.
AP Photo/Brian Ray

Dictionaries generally define ergonomics as a scientific discipline that uses principles of biotechnology and engineering to make products more comfortable for workers and consumers. But ergonomics isn't just about design. It also factors in how we use things.

In the context of a car, that means considering anything from the placement of a radio dial to how a person sits in a passenger seat. One ergonomics engineer for Ford described her job as "human factors engineering" [source: Autoweb]. So while engineers may design cars to be ergonomically friendly, it doesn't mean that one design will work for all users, especially if the car is designed for a person of certain proportions.

It's also up to us passengers and drivers to make ourselves comfortable. For instance, if you're a driver and position your seat so that your feet barely reach the pedals, you may induce unnecessary strain on your arms -- just as sitting too close can cause leg or back pain. Seat position, posture and time spent in the car all can affect a person's health. According to one study, if you drive four or more hours a day, you're six times more likely to develop back problems [source: Driver Ergonomics]. Musculoskeletal disorders also pose a concern for long-distance drivers, particularly those who drive for a living: truck drivers, taxi drivers, even police officers on patrol.

In this article, we'll take a look at the design of car ergonomics and how to take full advantage of them for health, comfort, efficiency and safety. First, let's see what role ergonomics play for a person in the driver's seat.