While office workers can spend hours sitting down, they can get up, stretch and walk around. Those are not options for truck drivers. Add to that road vibration and shocks, and it’s easy to see why seat technology can have a massive effect on safety and health.
“Truck drivers experience lower back problems at a much higher level than almost any other occupation,” says Jim Parison, chief design engineer with Bose Ride. “The way a human sits unfortunately allows shock and vibration to hit the lower back area particularly hard. We’ve talked to drivers who routinely spend their days off in bed trying to recover from back pain.”
Safety and comfort
Spring-loaded and air-ride seat technology appeared about 30 years ago and was a huge advance over older seats. Today, newer approaches to seating are helping drivers stay more alert and productive. Just as important are the health aspects of new seat designs that help drivers feel better both when their shift ends and over longer periods of time.
“We routinely see drivers with shoulder blade pain and serious blood flow issues in their legs,” says Wayne Finchum, vice president of maintenance for Titan Transfer, a Nashville, Tenn.-based fleet. “Truck drivers miss twice as many days of work due to back problems than any other occupation.”
When a driver has a back problem, Finchum says, Titan works to find a seat that helps alleviate the pain. “Finding the right seat is critical because we know that good posture behind the wheel means everything to having a healthy back.”
Peterbilt worked with drivers to design its own highly flexible seat for its Model 579 tractor with several cutting-edge features, says Anthony Gansle, on-highway marketing manager. An entry/egress memory feature allows a driver to drop the seat to a lower level when exiting the cab. The push of a button automatically returns the seat to the preferred height once the driver climbs back behind the wheel.
Gansle says a great deal of time also was spent making sure the seat offered the right range of motion, travel, back tilt and lumbar support. “We designed the seat controls with distinctive different shapes and grouped them logically according to functions,” he says. “We wanted to be sure they could make seat setting changes easily without taking their eyes off the road.”
Different seats, different perks
Awareness of health issues related to poor seating posture has been reflected in the most popular new options for seats, says Gordon Cooley, design engineer with the Commercial Vehicle Group, he parent company of Bostrom and National Seating. One is a “backcycler,” a continuous rolling massage designed to relieve pressure and tension in the lumbar area and prevent muscle stiffness.
Knoedler Seats’ ProBax cushion uses a patented foam construction system to help induce improved posture, which leads to improved diaphragm use for deeper breathing, resulting in less fatigue and raised concentration levels. The improved posture also reduces lumbar disc pressure and lowers the risk of disc degeneration and herniation while improving blood flow and digestion, says spokesperson Jenn Ross.
Bose Ride adopted the same principles that work in the company’s noise- canceling headphones, Parison says. The company’s seats use electromagnetic controls and sensors that detect shock and vibration coming up through the floor of the truck. The system instantly reacts by applying an equal countershock to provide a smoother ride.
And while heated seats have been popular for some time, demand for ventilated and cooled seats also has picked up, says Cooley. “Although the stereotypical trucker is a big man, in reality we’re seeing a wide range of body types in trucking today,” he says. “We’re seeing more women and smaller-framed men, so more flexibility is required in our designs.”