Truck OEMs are increasing their focus on driver ergonomics as fleets seek ways to improve the truck operator’s work environment and aid in minimizing driver fatigue factors.

“We’re making improvements to our trucks to make them more operator-friendly,” Bill Dolesh, vp-engineering for vocational truck maker Autocar LLC, told Fleet Owner.

The cabs on Autocar’s Xpeditor WX chassis line, for example, have a new dashboard and overhead instrument layout to improve access to controls and gauges, with greater knee room and expanded low-front visibility. “We’ve also lowered the sound levels in the cab,” Dolesh added.

Ylva Dalerstedt, product planner-driver environment for Volvo Truck Corp. in Gothenburg, Sweden, told Fleet Owner that in North America there’s more “awareness” of ergonomics and that more and more drivers demand a good driver environment. “However, I also believe that in North America there is still a strong preference for the ‘traditional’ type of truck – and in these, cabs ergonomics are less developed,” she said.

Dalerstedt pointed out that the specific ergonomic features of trucks change based on its intended application, which alters the manufacturing perspective as well.

”Depending on what type of transport you are doing – for example, distribution vs. long haul –different features can be more or less important,” she said. “For example, distribution drivers that have a high frequency of entry/exits [require] a better cab step system than for long-haul drivers.”

However, all truck drivers regardless of job type need several basic requirements today. “When seated, the most important thing is that they can adjust the seat and controls (steering wheel, etc.), plus also have good visibility of the road and of the instrumentation,” Dalerstedt said.

“When sitting still for a long time, it is important that drivers can vary their seated position to improve blood circulation and change the position of pressure points,” she noted. “The design of the seat cushions and backrest are essential for the feeling of comfort in the seat. Also, minimizing vibrations in the seat is important to avoid work related injuries.”

Dalerstedt added that, to some extent, ergonomics and driving comfort can be linked to driver fatigue and can thus help minimize it.

“In-vehicle factors that contribute to driver fatigue or driver inattention while driving is in-cab temperature, noise and vibration,” she said. “Too-high a temperature in the cab affects driver alertness negatively and increases reaction time. Long-term exposure to low frequency vibrations and low frequency noise induces fatigue and makes you more tired.”

Fleets can benefit from improved driver ergonomics both over the short and long term, she said. “The short-term effects relate to alertness and feeling of well-being during a working day – and an alert driver in a good mood is a safe driver,” Dalerstedt said. “In the long-term, the benefit [is] reduced risk for work related injuries.”