To accommodate such a wide range of body shapes and sizes, cars have increasingly adjustable driving features. Few modern cars now have only a sliding seat as a concession to different sizes of driver, though that was once commonplace. Now, luxury cars with 8-12-way adjustable seats are common and even modestly priced cars have seat height adjusters and ’tilt and reach’ adjusting steering wheels.
While some seat adjusters are safe to use on the move, especially electric and ratchet operated ones, others are not, so think carefully before you try to use them. Most seat sliders completely release the seat in the runners so it can easily slide you out of reach of the pedals or crashing against the steering wheel. Japanese manufacturers still like lever backrest adjusters that completely release the back, which could lead to you falling backwards. But take care even with rotary or ratchet adjusters because some are so tucked away that there is a risk of getting a hand stuck at the wrong moment. The most sensible thing is only to adjust a manual seat when stationary.
While electric steering column adjusters are safe to use while driving, all manual systems completely release the column and greatly reduce steering control as the wheel flops about, so never use them on the move.
It is fascinating to look into a classic car and see how much safety has improved. I’m not just talking about the addition of things like seatbelts and airbags but the attention that has been given to making the whole interior safer. The most striking thing is often the size and shape of the seats. Look at anything made before the 1980s and the chances are that the seats end below all but the shortest driver’s shoulder blades – a position likely to make whiplash worse. Fascias were often painted metal, with nothing to absorb the impact of unbelted occupants hitting them. Worse still, many switches and controls were metal and projected some way out of the fascia to stab unfortunate accident victims. Indeed, cars before the late 1960s had non-collapsible steering columns which could literally spear the unbelted driver’s chest.
The first time an expert showed me how to adjust my driving position properly, it felt a little odd at first, even though it was not that different from my usual position. But as the oddness wore off I soon appreciated the fewer stress points the new position created on long journeys. So, if you follow the instructions here and think it feels strange, please try it for a couple of journeys before reverting to your old ways.