Seats are so vital to driver comfort and safety that The Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Assns. has established a task force to develop a Recommended Practice on seat design and durability.

Fleets realize that well-designed seats can help keep drivers behind the wheel. Spec'ing a high-end seat may help minimize driver turnover.

There's also the safety issue. When drivers must constantly shift around in their seats to compensate for muscle aches and pains, some of their attention is diverted from the road. An uncomfortable driver cannot give driving the undivided attention it demands.

Although fleets have a greater awareness of the importance of good seats, the majority of drivers surveyed by TMC reported that they "feel discomfort after a typical day of driving," and less than half reported being satisfied with their truck seat. The task force recommends that until an RP for seats is established, fleets should "physically check out a variety of seating products" and let drivers play a role in the final spec.

Bostrom offers a suspension-dampening system that automatically adjusts the seat's shock absorber to compensate for road conditions. On the market for about a year, MotionMaster, which was developed in conjunction with Lord Corp., is an option on Bostrom's Talladega LSO. The system is also available as an aftermarket kit for the Bostrom 900, the Talladega 914, and the Talladega 915. A comparable system for medium-duties should be available this spring.

In response to driver requests for longer, wider seats, Bostrom is introducing the Talladega XXL series. The new models, which should be available in April, will sport a longer, wider cushion and a new seat configuration.

Comfort Ride has a new Class 8 offering that is exclusive to Freightliner FLD and Classic Series trucks. Dubbed the "Big Daddy," the seat has a wider, longer cushion and an extra-wide base. For added durability, it has been designed to withstand up to 1,000 lb. The seat is available with a vibrating massage and heating unit. All Comfort Ride models feature a maintenance-free suspension system; a seven-chamber air support that enables drivers to mold the seat to their bodies is optional.

National Seating makes a suspension seat in which the dampening characteristics of the shock absorber are tuned to match the Firestone air spring to provide a smooth ride without being too soft.

With slide tracks that are adjustable in 1/2-in. increments, drivers can find the position that best fits their body size.

Options on National air seats include: powered air lumbar support; cushion and back air-powered side bolsters; rest recline feature; and a suspension height memory that goes to the top position for exiting, lowers the seat back to the drive position for entry, and automatically returns to the preset ride height when you're back in the seat.

Knoedler Manufacturers has made a number of improvements to its 9800 Air Chief series, including the addition of a foam adjustment system to support a wider range of driver shapes and sizes, an improved seat contour, as well as a "quick air release" feature. The company is also introducing the Electric 9800 Air Chief, which will have a six-way power adjuster to give drivers enhanced control of critical seat adjustment features.

Seats built by Recaro North America reflect the company's emphasis on driver ergonomics. For example, armrests are attached to the base rather than the seatback so the correct position is maintained after the seat is adjusted, and suspension and height-adjustment systems are separate. Recaro seats also have an electronic control system that enables the shock absorber to maintain its resistance no matter how severe the road conditions.

Powered ventilation systems, which pull moisture away from the body to keep drivers cool and dry, are optional. Another option is a heating system that can warm the driver up quickly.

Recaro has a number of interesting seat options under development, including a massage system that can also serve as a tactile alert system. If it's connected to a collision-warning system, for example, drivers could be alerted to a problem via stimulation through the seat before they actually see the visual cue.

Schukra of North America, which supplies lumbar supports to seat makers, has developed a massage option for truck seats that it feels could be instrumental in expediting a driver's "return to work" timetable after an injury, as well as preventing some back injuries altogether.

Sears Seating's most popular model is its Voyager series, featuring a wider, thicker backrest for more shoulder support; a thicker seat cushion for more comfort; and an improved contour.

Sears has developed a Fabriform process that eliminates seams, making the seat impervious to dirt, dust, water, etc., all of which can contribute to foam disintegration. Seats spec'd with the Fabriform option have a one-million-and-one-mile warranty.

New this year from Seats Inc. is the Loboy, a low-profile, companion-type seat for Class 6-7 applications. Customization is the password for this seat: Fleets can choose between an Elcamino or Summit Companion upper, as well as between an air or mechanical low-profile suspension for the lower section.

For Class 8, Seats offers the Summit XLT, which features a parallelogram air suspension for stability. The 21-in.-wide seat cushion has been designed with a flexible comfort zone for maximum tailbone support; and a 15-degree or fully reclining back and optional front-adjust armrests.