Before starting, it must be made clear that the computer use in vehicles I will be referring to is when the vehicles are parked and turned off. Not by any means should a computer ever be used while a vehicle is in operation.
Computers are used in vehicles by workers on the road for delivery or monitoring, e.g. police, firefighters, home care professionals, couriers, etc. Information related to the delivery or monitoring usually needs to be entered as soon as possible into a laptop or tablet. And while this is a timely and efficient way to input data, it unfortunately results a poor ergonomics setup. So while an “office-in-a-vehicle” can never be completely ergonomically designed, improvements can be made.
In terms of where to put your laptop or tablet while in your vehicle, we can look at a study from Marquette University in Wisconsin where researchers tested out four different scenarios for mounting a laptop in a vehicle. Results were as follows “Placing the mobile computer closer to the steering wheel reduced low back and shoulder muscle activity. Joint angles of the shoulders, elbows, and wrists were also closer to neutral angle. Biomechanical modeling revealed substantially less spinal compression and trunk muscle force.” (Biomechanical Effects of Mobile Computer Location in a Vehicle Cab; http://hfs.sagepub.com/content/53/5/474.abstract) So instead of placing your laptop on the passenger seat, it is much better to have it mounted beside the steering wheel to reduced twisting and awkward postures.
Here are some other tips for working in the car/truck:
- Pull your shoulders back and keep upper back straight and flat (to reduce strain to back and shoulder muscles)
- Sit with your back against the car seat (to provide support to your back muscles)
- Relax shoulders – avoid elevating or “hunching” shoulders (to reduce strain on neck and shoulders)
- Relax elbows close to torso – do not extend your arms in front of you (to reduce strain on your shoulders)
- If present, adjust the lumbar support in your seat (the lumbar support should rest at the curve of your low back).
- Use a laptop or tablet stand on your lap if your laptop or tablet is not mounted (to reduce neck strain)
- Use headset or speakerphone at all times (to reduce strain to the neck and shoulders from cradling the phone)
- Keep wrists neutral when keyboarding and mousing, i.e. keep wrists straight (to reduce wrist strain)
And finally, keep data entry in the vehicle to a minimum. Save longer tasks for when you’re in the office with a better ergonomic setup. Mobile computing is useful and important, but it shouldn’t leave with you ergonomic injuries.