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What do you look for in a car? Many people look at the size of the engine, some believe luxury is all that matters, and others value the safety features. Auto manufacturers are continuously trying to capture our attention with new features and functions. But what does this do to the ergonomic aspects of a vehicle?

At the 2017 North American International Auto Show held in Detroit, I evaluated some ergonomic features of vehicles that aren’t usually focused on:

Steering Wheels
The steering wheel of the Nissan Vmotion 2.0 Concept is similar to what you might see in a race car—your typical bottom half wheel with semi-rounded corners. As advertised by Nissan, the wheel is designed this way to provide an unimpeded view of the display panel for the driver. However, the half-wheel design gives rise to some issues, including:

  • obstructing the driver from doing the hand-over-hand turning.
  • preventing neutral wrist movement, since it would require awkward hand positioning.
  • unbalanced forces on the forearms while turning the wheel due to the uneven distribution of weight.

Door Handles
Exiting the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible was a hassle for me since there wasn’t an inside door handle. Instead, there’s a small button at waist level that opens the door when pressed on. I believe this generates more strain on the finger, as the person is ultimately pushing on the weight of the door. It may also lead to uncomfortable back postures since the button isn’t placed within the normal hand motion range.

Gas and Brake Pedals
As a tiny human being, natural excitement took over me when I realized that the 2017 Cadillac Escalade has power-adjustable pedals with memory settings allowing smaller people to comfortably adjust the pedals and seats without having their knees right under the steering wheel. In addition, it gives clearance for driving with boots in the winter without accidentally pressing on pedals.

Overall, ergonomics is crucial to the design of vehicles, since the critical control belongs to the driver. Some features can be aesthetically pleasing but of limited use to drive the car. Ultimately, the controls of a car should be intuitive and natural for people to discover and use.