An increasing number of car manufacturers are starting to incorporate new designs in to their cars to help with the health and wellbeing of drivers and passengers. It’s a slowly growing trend amongst some of the industry’s leading brands, like Ford, Hyundai and Jaguar Land Rover, that considers the health impacts that driving a car can have on an individual.
We spend on average nine hours a week driving and over the course of our lifetime we’re likely to have spent the equivalent of four year sat behind the wheel. That’s a long time to be spent sat down and the affects of inactivity are well understood and documented. The average office worker spends around nine hours of their waking day sat down, either commuting to and from work, sat at their office desk, or whilst relaxing at home.
Prolonged sitting can affect our metabolism and weaken our bones and muscles, as well as limited our body’s ability to regulate our blood and breakdown body fat. We also tend to fall into bad habits if we sit down too often, leading to poor posture and back and neck pain.
Mindfulness car design
The NHS recommends that we should all find ways to sit down less. They advise 150 minutes of exercise and week and healthy lifestyle practices like taking the stairs instead of the escalator, stand on public transport instead of sit, and working at a standing desk if you have one available. But what can we do when we can’t help but sit down?
There is no other way to drive a car other than by sitting. That is until we’re all driving around in driverless cars doing our Joe Wicks workout on the way to work. For the time being though we have to sit down behind the wheel and driving can be contribute to certain health conditions that are the result of inactivity. An interesting study in the 1950s found that a bus driver was twice as likely to suffer a heat attack than a bus conductor, who would, on average, climb 600 stairs every day.
Driving a car can not only affect our physical wellbeing but our mental state too. Even though many of use drive every day, driving still affects our heart rate and muscle tension, and can often make us feel irritated and lose patience. Even if driving isn’t the source of our stress and irritation, a busy commute or road congestion certainly isn’t the best place to relieve any tension.
Mindfulness car design is an attempt to address these issues of driving. It’s not only advantageous to our own wellbeing that we are relaxed when driving, but too other road users too. Dangerous driving has been recognised as one of the leading causes of shorter life expectancy, so making cars a more relaxing and comfortable place to spend our time is important for our wider society as well as our own health. So when we’re all looking to buy a new car, perhaps it’s time that we should pay attention to how our cars can help stay healthier and more mindful.
How cars are helping us stay healthier and safer?
So, how does this manifest in car design? There has been a spate of interesting concepts coming from the car industry in recent years. From smart technology that actively monitors the health of the driver; to research into melodious car sounds that are designed to help us relax; and dedicated mindfulness settings, how cars are being designed is changing for the better.
Ford’s Mindfulness Mode
To mark Distracted Driving Awareness Month in the United States, Ford introduced a ‘Mindful Mode’ to their Explorer model back in 2019. Mindful mode is a dedicated setting for reducing information on the central drive console to only show the speedometer and fuel level. It was inspired by a study that found Americans were spending more than of half their day processing information on a screen. Mindful mode, which we may see in future Ford models over here in the UK, has been designed to help reduce the cluster of information available to the driver, allowing them maintain their awareness whilst driving and avoid seeing any overbearing information.
SEAT’s Ergonomic Designs
Spanish car manufacturer SEAT is also looking into helping drivers become more mindful and relaxed behind the wheel. What they call the ‘ergonomics of happiness’ is a considered move towards a new style of car design that creates an ‘harmonious space’ to ‘encourage calmness’.
Ambient lighting throughout the car, ‘Air Care’ systems for improving air quality, ergonomic seating, and user-friendly technology that lets the driver do more with less effort have all been designed with driver and passenger wellbeing in mind. SEAT suggest that being mindful can not only reduce the risk of accidents caused by distraction and emotions, but can also help us drive more efficiently and reduce our carbon emissions.
Volvo’s Ambience Concept
Volvo announced an extraordinary idea at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show that the dubbed the ‘Ambience Concept’. The project explored how cars can connect with people and whether car design can influence their mood and wellbeing. The S90 Ambience Concept is a luxury concept car that plays a project on the car’s ceiling, with different settings available that each correspond to a different mood. It was designed to create an immersive experience for chauffeured passengers who could select settings from a smartphone app with synchronised surround sound audio. While perhaps farfetched for the everyday person driving to and from work, the concept does give us an insight into what the cars of the future may be able to do for our health and wellbeing.
Hyundai Health & Mobility Concept
Hyundai have seemingly taken a step further with their health monitoring concept. At the 2017 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) they announced their ‘Health + Mobility Cockpit’, an new concept design for a car that can monitor the heart rate, stress levels and posture of the driver, and warn them if they’re losing. It’s also able to respond to these signs by adjusting the temperature, lighting, sounds and even the scents of the car to counter any signs of stress or agitation. Head of Hyundai Ventures, John Suh, says that ‘technology can be sued to shift a driver’s state of mind by creating conditions that cultivate a safer and healthier mental state’.
Jaguar’s Morphable Seating
Besides the emotional and mental effects of driving, we’re also likely to experience physical pressures from being behind the wheel. This is the focus of Jaguar Land Rover’s new technology that is a ‘morphable’ seat that helps offset the health risks of sitting down for too long.
It’s yet another example of how technical innovation in some of the world’s leading car brands could be about to change how we drive. Jaguar Land Rover’s morphable seat is able to trick your brain into thinking you’re walking. Tiny hydraulics in the seat material are able micro-adjust the position of the seat constantly, which can help keep the muscles in the legs and gluteals active for the time you are sat down in the car. The seat is able to simulate the motion of walking and activate parts of the body needed for activity even whilst you aren’t moving.
How can I get a car that’s better for my health?
If you asked this question at a dinner party 10 or 15 years ago, you’d probably draw some funny looks and perhaps get slowly ostracized from the group. But with the latest advances in technology, our cars helping lead healthier lives is very much a possibility.
Perhaps next time you’re looking to buy a car you will consider more about how the car makes you feel. Does the seat promote a healthy driving position? Is there an overbearing amount of information displayed? Does the layout feel cluttered and busy? How does the ambience of the car make you feel? Finding the right answer to these questions will help you find car that makes you feel relaxed and less distracted, to help you lead an all-round healthier lifestyle.