Home away from home
Comfort can have a big impact on driver behaviour – the greatest factor impacting fuel consumption. MARISKA MORRIS investigates the importance of in-cab ergonomics
Whether the driver is travelling hundreds of kilometres to deliver goods across South Africa or making shorter trips in urban areas for last-mile delivery, the cabin design of the vehicle can have a big impact on driver comfort and fatigue.
“The cab is the place in which drivers spend most of their working life. The ergonomics of the cab will directly affect their comfort and ease of working and, more importantly, how safely they will be able to perform their job – for themselves and all the other road users,” says Eric Parry, product manager at Volvo Trucks Southern Africa.
Discomfort can be a distraction and cause fatigue. One example is the height of the step into the vehicle on medium and light commercial vehicles used in last-mile delivery. If the drivers need to exit and enter the vehicle regularly throughout the day, they can easily tire if they have to step up high to enter the vehicle.
Parry mentions some of the other factors that are important for in-cab ergonomics: “The visibility out of the cab from the driver’s seat is one of the key elements. The others are the seat, the steering wheel and switchgear that the driver needs to use regularly. These all impact directly on how effectively the driver is able to control the vehicle.
“The better drivers can see, the less likely they are to have a collision. They are also better able to accurately position their vehicle on the road. Keeping the switchgear close at hand means drivers don’t have to divert attention away from the road to change the radio station, for example. The positive safety impact of a good cab design cannot be overstated,” he adds.
Minimising distractions inside the cabin is essential as distracted driving is one of the top five causes of road crashes. During a press conference in April, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande noted that 77 percent of fatal road crashes were due to human factors such as distracted driving.
He said: “A single use of a cellphone results in an average of 52 seconds of distracted driving (which is just over one kilometre), impairing the driver’s ability to react adequately to changes in the road.”
Manufacturers are actively developing ergonomics to ensure that their vehicles provide ultimate comfort and safety for drivers. Volvo, for example, has a lower window line, optimised driving position, as well as slimmer mirror housings and A-pillars to maximise visibility of the road.
Like most manufacturers, Scania offers a range of cab options for every vehicle series to suit the driver’s needs; from short day and compact sleeper cabs for short trips, to the R-Sleeper-Highline that offers more space and storage to act as a home away from home.
The vehicles can also be equipped with a number of accessories from floor heating and waste bins, to compressed air guns and cab coolers to maintain a comfortable in-cab temperature for overnight rest or while loading and unloading goods.
“Safety, visibility and comfort are the three pillars on which all Scania cabs are built. Each model is carefully constructed according to extensive safety testing, aerodynamic optimisation and driver feedback,” the Swedish vehicle manufacturer notes.
A key feature in the in-cab ergonomics of the Mercedes-Benz Actros is seating. Air-suspended seats can be installed with seat heating, height adjustment, seat cushion angle and depth adjustment.
“The optionally available air-suspended, ventilated driver’s suspension seat provides pleasant seating conditions and a high level of comfort. The active ventilation system in the backrest and cushion of the suspension seat reduces heat and moisture build-up. The numerous individual adjustment options make for optimal ergonomics,” the team at Mercedes-Benz explains.
Other design elements to consider with in-cab ergonomics are the dashboard material and potential reflections in dark conditions, as well as the positioning of the controls and steering wheel. Safety can further be improved with anti-slip coatings on the handles and steps of the vehicle to prevent falling.
It is also important to ensure that there is adequate room for drivers to store equipment safely without anything hindering their driving ability or movement in the cab.
Transport operators can consult their drivers to find out what in-cab features are important to ensuring their comfort.
To further assist and ensure that drivers are safe on the road, transport operators can acquire in-cab monitoring technology. There is a range of systems available to assist in every aspect possible from surveillance and alerting drivers when they are swerving or speeding.
Drivers can also be encouraged to take frequent breaks and fleet owners can ensure drivers are well rested before they get behind the wheel.
Parry further advises: “Driver training is a key element. If the drivers understand exactly how their vehicle works and the impact their behaviour has on the transporter’s operations and success then they will be more inclined to act in the right way.”
Fleet owners can consider reward systems to encourage good driving behaviour, or simply help educate drivers on what not to do while on the road. When renewing the fleet, they should be sure to stop and think for a moment about how comfortable and safe a driver will be in their home away from home.