Much is made of health and safety in the workplace for Approved Driving Instructors and it’s primarily to do with having a safe car and not putting students at risk. The problem is that many ADIs are not aware of the potential health risks of being an ADI.
For many years there have been studies on taxi drivers and truck drivers who spend long hours in their vehicles. ADIs can be exposed to similar situations with back-to-back pupils. Surveys of professional drivers (mostly truck and taxi drivers) often show the following symptoms being raised. We could find no surveys of driving instructors anywhere in the world, however this paper from Economic Associates in Australia does talk about the risks to learner drivers of poor health by driving instructors. We spoke to a number of health professionals and read numerous scientific papers published by universities and institutions to bring you this easy-to-read list of potential illnesses.
Many professional drivers often drive with a full bladder for too long. This has been shown to predispose those drivers to bladder infections and kidney stones. One UK organisation is currently surveying lorry drivers to build a data bank of issues around access to toilets. There are other potential problems with dehydration causing highly concentrated urine to sit in your bladder for long periods of time.
Driving can be a sedentary job sometimes with restricted ability to make easy healthy food choices. ADIs should be aware of how much or little they move in the day, and ensure that they get enough fibre, vegetables and quality protein. Even though we’ve been indoctrinated with the 5+ a Day fruit and vegetables guidelines, it’s actually better to have at least 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day (and predominantly vegetables as fruit is full of sugars). The Australian government recommends 2+5 per day (two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables).
It is general cheaper both in the short term (because vegetables are cheap) and long term (because of health issues that might cause a premature death or, at least, stop you working) to have a healthier diet. It’s purely a case of not being lazy so that you can learn some simple recipes.
Snacking on sugar-rich foods causes unnatural elevations of certain hormones and can predispose you to diabetes.
If you are overweight and you take pioglitazone for diabetes then you already have an elevated risk of bladder cancer.
Back and neck problems
Sitting for long periods of time weakens muscles in the back which can lead to pinched nerves, herniated discs and sciatica. A physiotherapist, personal trainer or similar can give you exercises you can do to strengthen your back, even while in the car. Some people are now calling sitting down the new cancer on society. The human body is not designed to be sitting down for a long period of time (as I write this I’m standing at my desk, something I do occasionally if I am unlikely to be leaving the office all day).
If you are frequently turning to your student this can cause back strain.
The cause of this is often cited as poor circulation plus stress. As drivers are also predisposed to being overweight due to being sedentary, this may be a factor
Hiatus hernia, heartburn, wind and bad breath are all possible results of being overweight and eating a poor diet. These are also adverse factors for your students who may not want to be sitting in a closed space if you’re not smelling fresh.
To avoid having a full bladder some drivers dehydrate themselves which leads to excess stomach acid. Combine this with stress and you can develop stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and worse.
Dehydration can lead to sensations of thirst masquerading as sensations of hunger – the body craving any kind of input that would contain liquid. This can result in you eating more than you need, and there would be resultant weight gain.
Inactivity can lead to fluid retention in the lower legs, ankles and feet which can cause cellulitis, blisters and other skin disorders. There are exercises you can do while being driven by a student similar to those you would do for deep vein thrombosis on an airline. If you are driving, taking a two-minute break every hour to stretch and do something that gets your blood moving will help enormously.
Exposure to noxious fumes
This applies to all types of vehicles. Sitting in traffic means you are surrounded by an atmospheric cocktail of pollutants that are not good for your health that include sulphur dioxides, nitrogen dioxides, diesel particulates and carbon monoxide which can lead to breathing-related disorders such as asthma.
Benzene, which is present in diesel and petrol fumes, is implicated in cancer.
While this is less of an issue with modern cars, it can still be a problem for motorbikes and trucks. Constant noise exposure even at moderate levels will eventually affect hearing, gradually reducing high frequency response. Motorbike instructors that use intercoms are at risk because the voice in the intercom needs to be sufficiently loud to overcome the volume of the bike itself.
A hearing test can help pick up frequency loss in specific ranges due to over-exposure to certain frequency bands.
While some instructors don’t find teaching learners stressful, others do. Stress can causes a huge number of illnesses, but insomnia and high blood pressure are common. Insomnia is dangerous for instructors because being constantly tired dulls reaction times.
Effects of medication
Doctors may want to prescribe various medications for some of these symptoms. Some effective prescription drugs are not able to be used when driving.
However, ADIs should not let their situation get to the point of requiring drugs. This should be about prevention rather than fixing symptoms.
If you choose to continue your research online, be aware of any hidden agendas by a website to sell you medication of any kind. In general, remaining active, eating healthily and minimising your exposure to pollutants will radically reduce your risk of most of today’s common illnesses and ailments. Talk to your doctor, a nutritionist and a physiotherapist to help create a plan to keep you healthy because every day you can’t be in your vehicle is a day you can’t be earning money.
This article is designed to be a springboard to your own efforts and research in maintaining a healthy body, not a definitive guide.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.