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Savvy Seating

by Duff McCutcheon

The guys at the top of the corporate food chain – the executives – have some pretty sweet perks with their lofty positions: the corner office, the secretary, a nice view, a big desk… and a comfortable chair.

The average truck driver’s perks may not be as grand, save, perhaps, for the view, but he or she should have a chair that would rival any found in the top floor office. Heck, some of the product offered by North American seat manufacturers wouldn’t look out of place in Buckingham Palace. And why not? You’re spending upwards of 13 hours a day at the wheel; you need someplace comfortable to park your posterior. When your spine hangs in the balance, what’s too high a price to pay?

Most OEM seats are of pretty respectable quality, now, but the standard offering may not be quite what you want. Spend a bit of time sitting in a seat before you buy, and since it’s easier to roll the up-charge into the price when spec’ing a new truck, order one that’ll really make you happy. Aftermarket seating isn’t cheap, but it’s worth a look if you find yourself shifting positions constantly when driving, or if you’ve already got a few aches and pains. Your butt may not get top billing as far as influential body parts, but it’s hard to ignore an unhappy backside.

Drew Bossen of Atlas Ergonomics, a U.S. health and safety firm that’s worked extensively with trucking companies says there are three primary discomfort areas associated with driving a truck: the lower back, the head and neck, and the shoulders. “And all of these discomforts are directly related to the loss of the curve in the lower back or lumbar area of the spine,” he says.

When you stand or sit up straight, that curve in your lower spine is an indication of proper posture – a position that’s going to promote a healthy back. Unfortunately, many of us have poor seating postures. “As we lose that curve, we put increased stress on related muscles. The head weighs around 10-12 lbs, and when it’s sticking out from its column of support on the neck, the muscles have to work much harder to hold it up. When you support the lower back, you minimize neck, shoulder, and low back discomfort,” Bossen says.

And supporting the lower back, or lumbar area, is what a good seat is supposed to do. The number one thing to look for in a chair? Good lumbar support – especially in the form of adjustable, multiple air chambers that you can tailor to your specific body type.

Another must are armrests, according to Bossen. These are optional on many seats, but they’re well worth the investment. “Arm rests make immense sense for the over-the-road driver because you’re using your arms to help support the upper body.”

Low Frequency Vibration
Add the non-stop jarring and vibration of driving a truck to the problems of poor posture and you’ve got a recipe for mayhem on your spine. “With trucking you’ve got the added problems of vibration and total body shock that happens on the road. And the data on long term vibration suggests degradation on the spinal pads over time until you have significant back problems,” says Bossen.

A good seat suspension, preferably an air-ride suspension, is one way to help absorb the shocks and vibration of the road.

“There are two basic types of truck seat suspensions,” says Comfort Ride’s Jennifer Buland. “There’s your standard, mechanical scissor-style suspension, and your premium air-ride suspension that runs off your truck’s air pressure system.”

Bossen is insistent on the importance of an oscillating or air-ride suspension. “If there’s any opportunity to dampen vibration, you should take it,” he says. “If it’s turned off, then virtually every vibration transmitted through the truck cab will be transmitted to the driver.”

Plus, an air-ride suspension will extend the life of your seat, according to Buland. “It prevents you from topping or bottoming out your seat, which helps reduce wear and tear on the seat. If you flatten out the foam, in time it will make the seat less comfortable. Premium suspensions helps prevent that, and it also slides back farther to give you more legroom.”

There are a ton of seating manufacturers out there – your options are certainly not limited to what’s in the OE data book. Seating might also be a recruiting option for drivers who’d rather stay with a carrier than switch. It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. If you’re gonna be king of the road, you need a throne worthy of the title.

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