Driving tests

Health risks through working as a driving instructor

We are often made aware of risks that professional drivers such as truck and taxi drivers are exposed to during their job. Driving instructors can experience similar risks, plus some others. Driving instructors spend hours in or on their vehicle in a sedentary situation, and the problems are made worse if pupils are back-to-back with no chance for a break, or if the work is stressful.

There are a number of symptoms and conditions that can be caused and/or aggravated by the lifestyle of a driving instructor, and it pays to be aware of these so preventative measures can be implemented.

Neck and back issues

Due to the sedentary sitting nature of being a driving instructor back and neck muscles can become weakened which can lead to trapped nerves and herniated discs. Car seats may be comfortable, but sitting in any one position for a long period of time, however ergonomic or comfortable, is not good for the body as humans are not designed to sit for long periods of time. Sitting on a motorbike has its own issues with posture, too.

There are simple back exercises that you can get from your doctor or (preferably) a physiotherapist or similar that will strengthen your back and neck so that it has the strength to hold itself during the day.

Noise exposure

Motorbike and heavy vehicle instructors are exposed to elevated noise for long periods of time. Persistent loud noise will gradually degrade your high frequency hearing. Excessive noise can also cause stress over long periods of time, and fatigue in the short term. If you are using an intercom system on a motorbike then take special care with the volume coming into your ears as it will have to be loud enough to be heard over the motorbike itself.

Vibration

Vibration can be a problem on motorbikes and in some heavy vehicles. Constant vibration is not good for your body.

Pollution and noxious fumes

Professional drivers are exposed to elevated levels of noxious fumes, especially if on a motorbike. It’s not just on the road, but also at petrol stations where driving instructors will spend more time than the general population filling up, breathing in those fumes as they waft up from the fuel nozzle.  Diesel particulates are particularly bad for aggravating asthma and other conditions. When filling up, ensure that you position yourself so that the prevailing wind blows the fumes away from you.

If you are a car or heavy vehicle instructor you can select whether the air conditioning introduces outside air or recycles air inside the vehicle. However, there’s always some level of outside air entering the vehicle and if you are driving in a built up area, this air could be concentrated with pollutants.

Stress-related illnesses

Not every driving instructor finds teaching driving stressful, but for those that do it can create other symptoms such as insomnia. Being constantly tired increases the time taken to react to situations and can causes other physiological symptoms such as high blood pressure, increased hunger (leading to weight gain), etc.

Dehydration

Many driving instructors drive with a full bladder for too long. They will try to limit their fluid intake so that they don’t have to stop to go to the toilet, and this has numerous potential problems. Firstly, dehydration is stressful on your body. It reduces the body’s reaction time, causes phantom hunger sensations which can lead to over-eating, and can cause headaches and halitosis.

Secondly, holding in a full bladder, plus having to deal with highly concentrated urine is not good, either. Studies have shown that taxi and truck drivers have elevated risk of bladder infections and kidney stones.

Weight issues

The more obvious result of a sedentary job is weight gain. Driving instructors may eat on the go and might not always be able make the best food choices, and this can cause weight issues. Recent advice is that we should be getting 10+ servings of fruit and vegetables per day, not 5+, and this should be predominantly vegetables, not fruit. The Australian government recommends 2+5, or two servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables.

Weight gain can also lead to fluid retention around the ankles and this predisposes you to blisters, sores, ulcers and other skin conditions. Furthermore, if you gain a lot of weight, and your circulation is reduced, and your body becomes weaker through lack of exercise, you may end up with impotence issues.

Medications

Some prescription medication can aggravate other conditions above. For example if you have already gained weight and are being treated for diabetes, certain medication increases your risk of bladder cancer, which is already slightly elevated just through your exposure to noxious fumes and the other factors mentioned above.

What to do now

It is best to be aware of all the potential issues that you face as a driving instructor and take action to minimise your risk rather than be reactive and have to treat illness and discomfort in the future. There’s no guarantee you will experience any or all of these issues, but it’s best to take a preventative approach by:

  1. Taking an interest in your health
  2. Talking to appropriate professionals to create a simple plan that you can follow to stay healthy.

Every day you are out of the seat of your car, sick and unable to work, will cost you money. For a couple of hundred dollars of specialists’ time you should be able to get a plan that will significantly reduce the likelihood of you becoming ill or injured, which is something that could save you thousands of dollars in the future. Perhaps ask in your circle of friends to see if you already have access to people who can give you useful information. Also, be careful of what advice you choose to follow from the internet. Be vigilant for whether there is a hidden agenda to get you to buy a particular product or service.

driver training

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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Posted in Advice, Driving Instructors
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