How To Sit In Your Car: The Correct Driving Posture

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Getting the right seating position in your car can help prevent lower back pain or make it easier to cope if you do suffer.

Paying attention to the position of your back, shoulders, elbows and thighs, as well as the seat, mirror and steering wheel settings, can make a big difference when you’re on the road.

Read our guide in full or click on the links below to go straight to a specific section.

  • Why your driving posture matters
  • Lower back pain: a common complaint
  • Can driving cause lower back pain?
  • Getting comfortable behind the wheel
  • How to adjust your seat properly
  • Getting the back support you need when driving
  • Your guide to getting comfortable at the wheel
  • Correct posture for health, comfort and safety

Why your driving posture matters

So are you sitting comfortably in your car? Too many people are not.

That’s according to analysis of the internet searches made by millions of motorists.

The phrases ‘car seat cushion’, ‘lumbar support for car’ and ‘most comfortable car seats’ were searched nearly 10,000 times in one month alone in the USA.

Extrapolate that data for other countries – and other search engines – and it’s clear a huge number of drivers are on a quest for comfort.

It’s important. A good driving position can help you avoid back pain. And if you do suffer, getting more comfortable in the car may help you manage better.

Lower back pain: a common complaint

It’s a major problem. While no one knows exactly how many people live with back pain, the American Chiropractic Association reckons as many as 80 per cent of people will suffer at some point in their lives.

One global study found that lower back pain causes more disability than any other condition, affecting nearly one in 10 people and becoming more common with increasing age.

The good news is there’s something we can all do about this. And it’s not difficult.

Can driving cause lower back pain?

In its list of ways to avoid lower back pain, Britain’s National Health Service recommends regular exercise, taking care when lifting, sleeping on a supportive mattress, maintaining a healthy weight – and checking your seating posture.

That means paying proper attention to the way you sit at your desk, how you relax at home – and the way you position yourself for driving.

Its importance is clear when you consider that many of us spend a lot of time driving. One survey reckons the average motorist clocks up a full 18 days a year on the road in the US.

That’s a lot of people covering a lot of miles.

About 95 per cent of people in the US own a car. Even in a much smaller country such as the UK, 77 per cent of people are car owners.

The number of drivers is higher still if you count people who use someone else’s car.

The UK government’s Office for National Statistics says more than 15 million people commute by car or van, meaning they face a daily risk to their back, neck, shoulders and legs.

And the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy found that at least half of business car drivers had suffered lower back pain in the previous 12 months.

Getting comfortable behind the wheel

Dr Steve Iley is Jaguar Land Rover’s Chief Medical Officer. So naturally he takes a keen interest in how vehicles affect the health and wellbeing of the people who own and use them.

That includes getting drivers as comfortable as possible behind the wheel.

Dr Iley says: “I’m not surprised at all that people are seeking advice online. We’ve identified a clear knowledge gap in an area which is really important.

“For anyone with a pre-existing condition – a bad back, for example – we know that seat position is important from the moment you sit down. Get it wrong and you’ll exacerbate the problem immediately.

But even for those who don’t have existing conditions, the trigger is lower than you might think.

Dr Iley says: “A badly positioned seat will start to have a detrimental impact on health on a journey lasting more than 20 minutes. In today’s world of longer commutes and heavier traffic, that’s nearly every journey we make.”

New technology is part of the solution. But only if it is used properly. In cars such as the Range Rover Evoque or Land Rover Discovery Sport, there can be 20 ways to move your seat.

That’s one of the challenges. If you have that many ways of adjusting your seat, how do you do it without guesswork?

How to adjust your seat properly

The answer? Follow the detailed instructions we offer. It’s a step-by-step guide which starts with the height of the seat, then its distance from the wheel, then the tilt of the cushion, and so on.

It only takes a few minutes and then you shouldn’t need to change it again, unless your circumstances change. If you become pregnant, for example.

For those who share with other drivers, the memory settings available in certain Land Rovers could be invaluable.

These vehicles have systems which can remember the seat settings for up to three people. So if a partner or colleague also drives, you can get your personalised settings back at the touch of a button.

Most electronic seat controls are located on the outer edge of the seat base.

Multiple adjustments are possible depending on your specific model.

These can include forward and rearward movement, height, backrest recline and incline, cushion tilt, cushion length, lumbar support and side bolster adjustment.

The good news is everyone can get properly comfortable, whether your car has the latest technology or you rely on more traditional methods of manual adjustment.

Getting the back support you need when driving

Dr Iley identifies a simple starting point. He says: “The key to good posture is to make sure that every part of the seat is in contact with some part of the body.

“But old habits die hard. The correct position might not feel natural at first.

“For some people it might feel odd because the seat offers more support than you’re used to. It might feel as though the seat is pushing you forward.

“But that’s a good thing because it means you are getting the support you need.

“People might think that sitting down is a resting position; that it can be done forever. But it can’t.

“You need postural support and I’d also recommend taking regular breaks during a long drive.”

Your guide to getting comfortable at the wheel

Here’s Dr Iley’s simple but comprehensive guide to making sure you are as comfortable as possible when you are driving.

Remember, it’s important to make any adjustments to the seat, steering column or mirror positions only when your vehicle is stationary. Never attempt to make adjustments, however minor, when you’re on the move.

1. Empty your pockets

Bulky items affect your seating position. So put your wallet, phone or house keys safely elsewhere in the car so you can concentrate on getting comfortable.

2. Get the right angles

Now you’ve emptied your pockets it’s time to push your bottom as close to the back of the seat as you can. You should be sitting firmly in the seat, not perched on it.

3. Sit back, sit straight

Now make sure all of your back is touching the back of the seat. Then start adjusting the back of the seat so your spine and pelvis are straight.

You don’t want to feel as though you are leaning backwards, or tipping forwards. It might feel different from what you’re used to, but don’t worry.

4. Rest your thighs

For comfortable driving your thighs should be comfortably at rest on the seat and you shouldn't be able to feel any pressure points.

5. Distance to pedals

Adjust the seat base backwards or forwards to set the distance from the pedals. Your knee should be slightly bent when the pedals are fully down.

6. Elbows – slightly bent

Your elbows should be slightly bent while reaching for the steering wheel. Avoid the temptation to sit hunched over the wheel.

You can adjust position of the wheel, but make sure you can see all the dashboard instruments clearly. Most steering columns can be adjusted for height and reach.

7. Shoulders in contact

Your shoulders should be in contact with the seat, even when you're turning the steering wheel. Sitting straight (point 3) will help you with this.

8. Headrest height

Adjust the headrest so it's at the same height as the top of your head. While some cars, such as the Range Rover Sport SVR, have sports seats that integrate the seat back and headrest, most will require you to put the head rest at the correct height.

Lumbar support

If your car has adjustable lumbar support, set it so you feel an even pressure from your hips to your shoulders – it should comfortably fill the arch of your back.

On cars with electric lumbar support adjustment you can use the front-back and up-down controls to find the most comfortable and supportive position.

For cars with manual lumbar adjustment, turn the knob on the side of the seat to get the best position.

If your car doesn’t have adjustable support you can use a lumbar pillow. These are widely available from a range of suppliers. Some people also use these products to help them sit comfortably at a desk.

You can even use a rolled-up towel for temporary lumbar support. This isn’t ideal as it will need to be adjusted every time you get in the car, but it’s better than nothing.


Adjust your mirrors

Prevent neck strain by making sure your rear-view and side mirrors are properly adjusted. External mirrors can be adjusted horizontally and vertically.

It’s easy to check you’ve got this right: you should be able to see the traffic behind you without having to crane your neck.


Take breaks

Even when you’re perfectly positioned in the driver’s seat you’ll still need a break on a longer journey.

The Highway Code, the UK’s rules of the road, recommends stopping for at least 15 minutes every two hours.

It’s no good just pulling over for a moment. When you stop for a break you should change your position – get out of your car, go for a short walk.

A few minutes away from the wheel can make all the difference. It will also improve your concentration, making your journey safer as well as more comfortable.


Correct posture for health, comfort and safety

Getting the correct posture for driving is important for your health, comfort and safety.

That’s why Land Rover ergonomists work to achieve the optimal driving position from the start of every design, carefully defining the exact placement of pedals, steering wheel and seat.

That includes every member of the Discovery, Defender and Range Rover families. You can see the full range for yourself here.

By following our tips you can still get comfortable even if your car doesn’t seem to offer the perfect position for driving.

Remember, paying attention to the position of your back, shoulders, elbows and thighs, as well as the seat, mirror and steering wheel settings, can make a big difference when you’re on the road.

With so many motorists clearly putting a premium on comfort, a focus on driver health will continue to take a front seat.