Coronaviruses (CoVs) continuously threaten human health. However, to date, the evolutionary mechanisms that govern CoV strain persistence in human populations have not been fully understood. In this study, we characterized the evolution of the major antigen-spike (S) gene in the most prevalent human coronavirus (HCoV) OC43 using phylogenetic and phylodynamic analysis. Among the five known HCoV-OC43 genotypes (A to E), higher substitution rates and dN/dS values as well as more positive selection sites were detected in the S gene of genotype D, corresponding to the most dominant HCoV epidemic in recent years. Further analysis showed that the majority of substitutions were located in the S1 subunit. Among them, seven positive selection sites were chronologically traced in the temporal evolution routes of genotype D, and six were located around the critical sugar binding region in the N-terminal domain (NTD) of S protein, an important sugar binding domain of CoV. These findings suggest that the genetic drift of the S gene may play an important role in genotype persistence in human populations, providing insights into the mechanisms of HCoV-OC43 adaptive evolution.