Neck pain such as whiplash was a factor in about a quarter of accident injury claims paid out in 2007., sparking improvements in head restraints.

When reporting on vehicle safety features, we often mention the latest in high tech. Whether it’s autonomous cars or vehicles with advanced collision-warning systems, safety is correlated with some of the newest technology on the market.

But there is one thing that is rarely mentioned even though it’s been required in all vehicles manufactured after 2008 and it’s the one thing that could keep you from sustaining a severe neck injury if you are involved in a rear-end collision. It’s the head restraint.

A Decade of Improvement in Head Restraints

A rear-end accident happens every 17 seconds in the United States, according to Consumer Reports. In a lot of instances, you are driving along when traffic slows in front of you, and while you slow down, the person driving behind doesn’t: What happens next is your classic rear-end collision. With a solid jolt, your head can be jerked back and forth at such force it causes whiplash, which by definition is hyperextension of the neck causing damage to ligaments and nerves.

What makes this injury even more concerning is that in some cases, whiplash isn’t noticeable immediately after an accident. It can take days, if not weeks, for an injury to become noticeable. Whiplash is the most frequently reported injury among insurance claims, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. According to the institute, nearly $8.8 billion, or 25 percent of accident injuries claims paid out in 2007, were related to neck pain.

Part of the problem had to do with the head restraints themselves. Notably, in both 2004 and 2005, nearly half of all front passenger head restraints were rated poor; only 12 percent were rated good. By 2014, none of the restraints on the market rated poor while nearly 95 percent were rated good. So front seat head restraints have definitely played a positive role in whiplash or lack thereof.

Backseat Head Restraint Improvements Lag

Despite the advances in front-seat head restraints, there remain some safety concerns about head restraints located in the rear seats. The biggest issue is that rear-seat restraints are not as sophisticated as front-seat restraints, and if you are riding in the middle of the back seat, there is no restraint.

For those riding in the back seat, buckling up may be top-of-mind, but not checking the head restraint to make sure it’s properly adjusted in the event of a rear-end accident can be dangerous. Another problem with some backseat head restraints is the way they are made. Specifically, those that are tall and stationary cannot be adjusted to the person using them. Also, some drivers find the head restraints interfere with the driver’s view out of the rear window.

Some cars, including those made by Volvo and Mercedes-Benz, now have head restraints that fold into the seat. For passengers to sit comfortably, they have to adjust the head restraint, which gives them the protection they need if involved in an auto accident.

Only Well-Adjusted Head Restraints Need Apply

The best way to avoid whiplash in a rear-end crash is to make sure your head restraint is in the right position to effectively protect you. If you are not aware:

  • The top of a head restraint should be high enough to reach the top of your ears
  • The restraint should be as close to the back of your head as possible
  • If you can tilt the restraint forward, make sure it’s no farther than three inches from your head
  • Always wear a seat belt and sit upright; if you are in a rear-end accident, the head restraint won’t do any good if you are slouched or leaning to one side of the car.

Experts also note that if you notice a car approaching too fast from behind, there is time to react. The best advice is to lean back in your seat so that your head comes into contact with the restraint and look forward. Hopefully, if an accident does occur, it will minimize any whiplash impact.

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