The overall aim of this study was to ascertain the seriousness of the problem of whole-body vibration when driving on roads; ”Is the road roughness such that it entails a health hazard and/or a road safety hazard through its impact on drivers?”. Other objectives were to estimate the scope of the problem during non-frozen ground conditions, to examine the problems and potential related to measurement techniques and to point out the necessity of further research in this field.
The measurement data was collected when driving on 37 kilometres of National Highway No. 90 (Hw 90) and 21 kilometres of County Road 950 (Lv 950) in Västernorrland County. The road condition on the test stretches covered the entire range from very smooth (IRI20 = 0.43 mm/m) to very rough (IRI20 = 22.78 mm/m). Whole-body vibration was measured in compliance with the ISO 2631-1 (1997) standard “Evaluation of human exposure to whole-body vibration”. This was done on stretchers with patients in different types of ambulance and at different speeds, and on the floor and driver and passenger seats for seated occupants in some different truck configurations.
There are three main sources of vibration: road roughness, vehicle properties and driver behaviour (including choice of speed). The interpretation of the results supports the opinion that within reasonable variations in these factors, road roughness plays a considerably greater part than the other two. High-energy, multi-directional vibrations at many natural body part frequencies were found at the seats in trucks. This is serious due to the risk of resonance, meaning a greater reproduction of vibration in the parts of the body afflicted than at the surface from which the vibrations are transferred. Further, the study substantiates findings from earlier studies; i.e., that the high frequency of occupational diseases among commercial drivers, especially in the locomotor systems, is related to rough roads. This relationship is probably strongest in geographic areas where the road roughness level is high on a large percentage of the roads. Where the roughness was greatest, peak values were registered on ambulance stretchers that considerably exceed the level that completely healthy people are assumed to experience as ”extremely uncomfortable” by international standards.
During a 15-minute ride on a stretch of National Highway 90, the vibration level in one type of ambulance was high enough to pose a potential health hazard had a healthy person been exposed to it for as little as 10 minutes a day. It was shown that the vibration on the ambulance stretchers was as great as at the drivers’ seat in wheel loaders loading blasted rock, bulldozers clearing way in forests for new road construction, etc. Vibration problems are even greater in the spring due to seasonal frost damage related additional roughness.