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Ergonomics: The Science of Being Comfortable

You’re about to head home from work; you’ve had a long day at the office and you’re ready to put your feet up.  Sinking back into leather seats is a great feeling, even cloth seats are fine because what you really need is supportive, relaxing seats for the drive home through congested traffic.  Great seats and a comfortable driving position are important features for a great drive, but what can really add to the relaxed feel of driving is the car’s layout for the driver.

So what is ergonomics?  To some it might sound like a word associated with flying and aeroplanes.  Ergonomics does have links to an aeroplane’s cockpit, and so too can you use the word in association with the driver’s space inside a motor car.  Ergonomics is all about the study of designing equipment and devices that fit well to the human body, its movements and its cognitive abilities.

Well designed cars consider the ergonomics related to the driver.  Features like the steering wheel, indicators, switches for lights, fan and air-conditioning controls, audio unit switches, gear lever, central on-board computer controls, the alignment of the driver’s seat with the pedals, electric window switches and door handles should all be within easy reach of the driver.

The driving experience would be awful in a car that had switchgear and controls beyond the natural reach of the driver.  A car that offered bad driving ergonomics might also be considered as being less safe than a car with good driving ergonomics because the driver’s attention could get tied up with correcting the stereo’s volume over avoiding the oncoming car!  None of us would want to settle for second rate ergonomics these days.

Modern car designers do put a lot of thought into the area of ergonomics, however some cars are still better than others, and it would be advisable that you consider a car’s ergonomics carefully before purchasing a brand new set of wheels. This would avoid disappointment and dissatisfaction a month or two into your ownership period.

It’s worth being a kid again and spending time inside a car to get familiar with what button does what.  Car’s that are too complicated for their own good might have all the bells and whistles but be too complex to use on a day-to-day basis.  The new millennia BMW 7 Series was often criticised for having far too many buttons located on the central dash area.  You just about required a degree to make the luxury features work the way you wanted them to.  BMW listened to the complaints of the car’s ergonomics and have improved the newer 7 Series cars immensely.

Remember, a car doesn’t necessarily need to be flash in order to provide top ergonomics.  Even your trusty ten year old Toyota Corolla may have better ergonomics than the latest Mercedes Benz.  Sometimes good ergonomics just comes down to owner’s preference, however, more often than not, a car’s good ergonomics reliably satisfies drivers of all shapes and sizes all the time.  In the eighties and nineties, Saab was heralded as having the most ergonomically sound cars.  Saab knew this and continued to sell new models with similar ergonomics of older models.  As the years went by, of course, they were criticised for being unadventurous in the dashboard design.  But all it took was for drivers of these Saab cars to be behind the wheel for any lengthy period of time, then they would soon appreciate how relaxing, comfortable and easy to use they actually were.