Driver Knowledge Tests

The health risks of being a driving instructor

Your job as a driving instructor could be slowly causing you illness and injury which may restrict your ability to earn money. The risks that taxi, bus and truck drivers are exposed to are well-known, but they are not published in a manner that relates specifically to driving instructors, yet many of the factors are the same.

Driving instructors may have to deal with long sedentary hours in the same seat under stressful situations with insufficient nutrition or hydration, and this takes its toll on the body.

Before we get to the symptoms and problems it helps us to understand what our bodies are designed to do. Humans evolved to walk long distances, sprint short distances, carry or drag things in collaboration with others, eat predominantly vegetables and seeds with the odd flank of antelope or kangaroo, and so on. We’re not highly resistant to lack of water, and our brains function best when we’ve had between 7-9 hours’ sleep. So much of being a driving instructor (or any professional driver) challenges these evolved traits that we need to look at taking deliberate preventative action to minimise the risks to our future health.

Additionally, when we get ill our tendency is to go to the doctor who will often provide rest for a sore back (often not the best solution), and drugs to mask pain (which just allows our pain to become worse before it’s intolerable again). Let’s look at how we’re damaging our bodies and what we can do about it.

Noxious fumes and atmospheric pollutants

If you’re an instructor in the centre of Sydney it’s going to be much more difficult for you to escape pollution than if you are in a rural area, especially if you are on a motorbike. You can switch the air flow in the vehicle so that it recirculates and you can use the air conditioning. Some cars come with better filters than others (look for cars with pollen filters), but mostly if you are breathing air from the outside, then you are sitting in a cloud of diesel particulates and other pollutants that are not good for you.

To minimise it you need to drive rurally or look for better air filters.

Noise

Noise is a particular problem for motorcyclists, and if, as an instructor, you are using an intercom, then the volume of that will need to be sufficient to be heard over the engine. Many motorbikes are very loud – loud enough that you can get your entire day’s worth of noise energy in only several hours. A typical motorbike will be 85dBA and this is loud enough to cause hearing loss over time. The recommended exposure at 85dBA is only 8 hours per day. Increase this by 3dB (which is the threshold of hearing a change in the volume for most people) and it halves the exposure – riding that Harley or sports bike could be damaging your hearing sooner than you expect.

Earplugs while riding will reduce your noise exposure by 20-30dBA, but they also reduce your perception of things around you as they will dull the sound of other vehicles, sirens, horns and so on.

Dehydration

Because it’s often difficult to find a public toilet in the city, some driving instructors deliberately dehydrate themselves so that can last through the day without stopping. Other instructors aren’t aware of their body’s requirements for water. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Once you get past of the point of thirst, those feelings can change to hunger as your body looks for any way to introduce liquid into its system. Eat that fat and protein-laden pie for lunch and you’ll need even more water to digest it. It’ll also make you feel lethargic in the afternoon.

Dehydration can cause or contribute to a number of physiological symptoms such as stomach ulcers, headaches and bad breath.

Weight

If dehydration causes hunger issues then it is possible to overeat. The sedentary lifestyle reduces your metabolism unless you are being active outside of work, therefore you are likely to put on weight.

Sitting all day can cause fluid retention in your ankles, too, and that can lead to skin disorders, blisters, ulcers and more.

If you put on enough weight then you’ll predispose yourself to diabetes and other complications. Then, if you need medication for diabetes that medication can have side effects such as elevated risk of bladder cancer.

Bladder infections and other problems

Lack of water makes you more likely to get bladder infections and kidney stones. This, plus the sedentary life, reduced circulation and weight gain can contribute to impotence. Holding a full bladder for too long can eventually affect the sphincters that hold it in, resulting in bladder weakness or incontinence.

Stress-related conditions

Some driving instructors find teaching driving quite stressful. Stress can cause a multitude of illnesses such as high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems and insomnia. Insomnia can lead to chronic tiredness and fatigue which makes it difficult to work and slows reaction times.

Digestive issues

As well as the aforementioned issues of stomach ulcers, making the wrong meal choices can cause hiatus hernia, stomach cramps, wind and halitosis (bad breath). Those are not pleasant for you, or for your student. In extreme cases it may cause irritable bowel syndrome or worse.

Body weakness

Sitting all day weakens some muscles and fatigues others. Driving instructors often complain of neck strain through turning to the right repeatedly while observing students. Core muscles can weaken – these are the muscles that help your posture. This is because your back muscles are not being used to hold you upright if your car seat is taking the weight. This can lead to trapped nerves, herniated disks and other pain. It can make it more likely that you will pull a muscle in your everyday life.

One positive of being a driving instructor is that it is good for your eyes as you are repeatedly changing the focal distance as opposed to sitting in front of a screen at a fixed distance all day.

What can you do?

Talk to specialists rather than generalists. Your doctor is a good place to start to ask who you should talk to, not necessarily what you should do. You may want to see a nutritionist, a physio, an expert in relaxation or meditation, and so on. The onus is on your to take preventative action because if you get any one of these symptoms bad enough it could stop you from being able to earn money.

If you decide to continue your research online, beware of websites that are trying to get you to buy medication or solutions that are either not tested or seem too good to be true. These would include miracle diets and devices that claim to improve your health with little or no effort. In general, if you are active, eating and drinking well, relaxed and avoid pollutants, you will minimise or virtually eliminate your risks of mostĀ of the above ailments.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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