Renault has recently introduced front headrests with extra protection. These have been specifically designed and positioned to adapt to the size of the occupant which helps limit the effects of whiplash in collisions.
Volvo has had a whiplash protection system – WHIPS – for years. In a rear-end impact, the backrest moves backward and tilts slightly to reduce the forces on the neck and spine. This has been standard on all Volvos since 2000.
A spokesman at Volvo said: ‘According to the Volvo Cars Traffic Accident Research Team, WHIPS reduces the risks of short and long-term whiplash injury by 33% and 54% respectively.’
Toyota has added protection including specially designed front seats which minimise whiplash in the Land Cruiser.
Active head restraints feature at Audi. These use a mechanical system which pivots the head restraints forward in a rear-end collision and Saab has anti-whiplash front seat head restraints.
Even though some manufacturers are making the right moves to combat neck injury, some according to Thatcham some are still faring poorly for safe head restraints.
Tests completed by Thatcham score vehicles from poor to good. Models such as the Jaguar X-type, Mercedes-Benz C-class from 2003 and the BMW 5-series from 2004 all scored ‘poor’ under the Thatcham tests.
Fleets can search to see how specific models fare at www.thatcham.org.
However, Thatcham’s tests use a whiplash crash dummy to evaluate the suitability of head restraints – a move that has been questioned by industry groups.
Speaking at the launch of the test results a Society and Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) spokesman said: ‘Tests with a sled and ‘whiplash crash dummy’ are not set up with the head restraint located at an optimum height. Instead, Thatcham uses a standard mid-height setting which could adversely affect results. Drivers should be advised that the best protection comes from a head restraint adjusted in accordance with guidance set out in owners’ manuals.’
‘The way Thatcham has interpreted different performance criteria is also a cause of concern. SMMT believes results could be misleading since they are not supported by real-world accident data. More research is recommended.’
How correct head restraint position is critical to your safety
THE number of whiplash cases could be reduced if every driver had their head restraint in the correct position.
Andy Price at Zurich said: ‘A properly positioned head restraint is the necessary first step in reducing the relative motion between head and neck, reducing injury as either a driver or a passenger.
‘To offer adequate protection, ensure the head restraint is as high as the top of the head. Position the head restraint as close to the rear of the head as possible, touching is best.
‘If there is a substantial gap between the head restraint and the back of the head it means that the head can move and tilt further back, increasing the risk of injury.
‘Ensure that the seat back angle is relatively upright, as this allows the head restraint to be positioned close to the back of the head.’
Follow the fleets’ four-step guide to monitoring neck injury
SEVERAL organisations offer advice on how to prevent whiplash and the correct procedures for positioning a head restraint.
Zurich has produced a four-step guide to help fleets prevent and reduce the number of whiplash cases.
Identify employees who are at risk of being involved in rear end collisions. This will involve analysis of the collisions that employees have been involved with in the past, together with fact and competency-based risk assessments.
Ensure that employees are using vehicles which have been assessed and score high marks in terms of whiplash protection.
Organisations must practise the same duty of care towards all their employees making work-related journeys, whether they are company car drivers or have chosen to take the cash-for-car option or use their private vehicle.
Provide awareness training to ensure employees know how to position their head restraint.
This should also cover other key issues relating to how the driver sits in their seat and how to achieve the correct seating position.
This is important for employees who regularly use different vehicles e.g. pool or hire cars. Research carried out by Thatcham showed that 72% of front seat occupants fail to adjust their head restraints correctly or did not have head restraints that offered protection from whiplash – in the majority of cases they were set too low or angled too far back.
Monitor how any of these interventions are doing in terms of reducing whiplash and rear end collisions as the identified areas of risk.
If just the raising awareness training is used, the best way to monitor its success is to carry out regular audits to check employees are adjusting head restraints correctly.
Also, periodically monitor users of pool cars to check they are carrying out their pre-drive safety checks, including correctly adjusting their seating and head restraint positions.