Plump Up: Automakers Increasingly Designing Cars For Obese Drivers

As the world’s population becomes increasingly overweight, many automakers are designing their next-generation of vehicles around obese customers. According to a British government statistics 60 percent of adults and one-third of 10- and 11-year-old children are obese. British cars have gained a foot in width to accommodate the larger populace.

Case in point: BMW recently launched a study, where it recruited 800 volunteers — ranging from slim to obese body types — to see exactly how obesity affects drivers. The most obvious struggle for heavier people is getting in and out of an automobile, but other factors — including visibility, ergonomics, seat design, and so on — are also affected.

“People are getting more obese and we want to find out how that limits their range of motion and how our vehicles can adapt to the changing needs of our customers,” Ralf Kaiser, a member of BMW’s ergonomics team, told  The Sunday Times. “We know that a lot of overweight and obese people have problems in daily life, and in the car this starts with getting in and getting out.

“In general, these aren’t sporty people. We already have things like the parking distance control, which shows obstacles on a screen when you are reversing,” said Kaiser. “For someone who can find it difficult to turn 140 degrees to look behind them, they can now just look at the screen. The study will mean we can look at things more scientifically and build a car that at least 95 per cent of people can use.”

Other premium brands have similar goals: Mercedes plans to strengthen interior grab handles to aid larger passengers in egress and ingress; Porsche will add “electrically-powered steering columns” that move out of the way when the car is turned off. Honda has added two inches of width to its seats in the last 10 years, and according to the British newspaper The Telegraph the Japanese automaker “will also have buttons that will allow for so-called “sausage fingers.’” Rear backup sensors and blind spot detectors are some other technologies that enable err assist overweight drivers.

U.S. government statistics (or a trip to your local chain store) confirm that America is facing the same (if not worse) obesity problems as Britain. One can’t help but wonder is if accommodating overweight drivers and passengers reduces their desire to get in shape and thus improving their quality of life in all aspects – not just in driving.

Source: The Telegraph