In the most recent MSP Tests, 10 drivers evaluated each vehicle in the same 10-mile loop. Each driver scored the vehicle's interior on a 10-point scale based on an organized ergonomic inventory. These 10 scores were averaged to minimize any bias toward one vehicle or another. Evaluation categories included the front and rear seat, instrumentation, controls, visibility, communications, and a sum total of the averaged scores. See Page 47 for the condensed results of MSP's Ergonomic Evaluation.
The MSP communication evaluation, done by the department's radio shop, rated the radio equipment accessibility in the dashboard and trunk. The radio shop also evaluated the engine compartment, considering the ease of electronic component installation under the hood and the running of cables, says Wilson. "They also did a noise check on the vehicle to evaluate how well the car is grounded from radio frequency interference," he adds.
The LASD tests evaluated each vehicle by four drivers on 100-mile course traversing different types of terrain. These tests broke down each major category into an itemized inventory to examine different aspects of a vehicle's ergonomics. "Visibility" is explained as the driver's overall forward visibility considering a number of factors such as ceiling and dashboard height, pillar placement, windshield size and distortion. Additionally, the L.A. tests examined an officer's peripheral view using "clock positions" to designate the viewing position with and without using the rearview and side mirrors.
The LASD Tests further catalog each vehicle's major category, considering particular ergonomic aspects such as head and leg room, placement and position of controls, and control accessibility and proximity to each other. See Page 52 for shortened results of the LASD tests.
L.A.'s testing also included a motorcycle ergonomic evaluation. These results can be viewed at www.lasd.org/sites/motorcycle-test once posted. Moran adds that there tends to be a stronger bias among individuals toward one brand of motorcycle. However, the scores identified individuals with such a bias in order to cancel them out and receive a fair evaluation.
While the ergonomic evaluations from both organizations are extensive, neither the LASD nor the MSP tests evaluate the safety factors of any aftermarket accessory mounts or equipment. Wilson points out that it would be hard to test for these safety factors but notes evaluating the interior room in terms of the space to install computers, radars and cameras lends itself to the safety factor.Asking for a fix
Once on the road, if an officer discovers an ergonomic design problem in the squad car, he should mention it to the agency head or department fleet manager, who should in turn mention it to the dealer the agency purchased its vehicles from. If the problem is common enough, it may be a design fault, and major vehicle manufacturers are responsive to remedying these issues.
"I can't pretend to know what [law enforcement] needs for everything they do," Blackmer admits. "This means we are really more reactive than proactive."
Whenever he plans to make a change, Blackmer says his design team meets with Ford's police advisory board to show them proposed changes to avoid making an ergonomic design mistake. However, they don't fully know how the design will work until it's tested in the field — and that's where officer input comes in.Preventing problems
Even with all these ergonomic considerations in place, enforcement officer's lower backs may still be wrenched if poor ergonomic posture continues. Improper sitting posture can lead to back problems. According to Mittelstedt, sitting applies 200 times more pressure on the lower back than standing. Sitting incorrectly can push the lumbar spine backwards, turning the spine into a "C" shape instead of its natural "S" shape. Add that amount of pressure on the lower back to the amount of hours clocked sitting in the patrol vehicle and it's easy to see the problem. Fortunately, officers can handle most comfort and twisting issues individually through proper sitting posture and preventative exercises.