Fleet News

Whiplash: more than just a pain in the neck

MILLIONS and millions of pounds are spent out each year by insurance companies paying claims for drivers with whiplash, the cost of which is inevitably passed on to fleets.

About 90% of personal injury claims are for whiplash which equates to an annual bill of £1.3 billion.

The RAC Foundations says that as many as 80% of all rear impact injuries result in at least one occupant suffering from a neck or spinal injury.

However, whiplash is a classic case of prevention being better than cure. According to Andy Price, practice leader, motor fleet risk management at Zurich, there are measures fleet managers can take to ensure that their employees minimise the risk of sustaining a whiplash injury while in a company car.

Price said: ‘The fundamental approach of risk management is to try to eliminate the risk altogether. The best way for employers trying to prevent or reduce employee whiplash injuries is to minimise the chance of employees being involved in rear end collisions.

‘This involves creating and sustaining within a company an on-road safety culture that will leave employees more receptive to modifying their driving behaviour.

‘Employees can learn the skills necessary to minimise the chance that they will be hit in the rear, and understand that rear end collisions are avoidable, regardless of who is ‘at fault’.

Ways to minimise the chances of a rear-end collision include keeping a foot on the brake when stationery – the brake lights act as a warning to approaching vehicles – and leaving enough space between the vehicle in front gives more room to manoeuvre if a vehicle is approaching too quickly from behind.

The problem is so widespread the RAC Foundation launched a campaign in conjunction with the FIA Foundation and Bridgestone earlier this year to tackle the issue. The starting point though is to have a correctly positioned head restraint.

Edmund King, executive director, RAC Foundation said: ‘More than 50% of motorists are putting their necks on the line unnecessarily. Many whiplash injuries should easily be avoided if motorists took a few seconds to check that their head restraints are in the right position.

‘This billion pound pain in the neck could be a thing of the past if motorists were given clearer advice on the correct position of head restraints and followed it.’

Whiplash is officially classified as a minor injury but the after effects are often severe. According to the RAC Foundation sufferers spend an average of 39 days off work and at least 8% of people have not fully recovered at least up to four years after the accident took place.

Whiplash explained

ACCORDING to Thatcham the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre, which tests the effect on the body of impacts, whiplash is the sudden whip-like movement of the head relative to the torso.

Known as hyper-extension (over-extension), injury to the neck is often the result of being struck from behind. During a rear end car crash, as the driver’s seat is pushed forward at high speed, the unsupported head lags behind. This causes substantial damage to the soft tissue in the neck. Mild symptoms of the injury involve stiffness and tenderness of the muscles in the upper back and neck, headaches and dizziness.

More serious, long-term cases can involve permanent impairment, neurological and musculoskeletal injuries.

Annual cost to insurance companies tops £1.3 billion

UK INSURERS are paying out more than £1 billion to compensate for whiplash claims.

It is an increasing problem according to insurer Direct Line, which says that as more people are becoming aware of compensation, fraudulent claims are becoming more common. A spokeswoman for the group said: ‘Whiplash is a major concern for insurers with costs topping £1.3 billion each year. We have seen significant increases in this kind of claim – partly we suspect due to consumer awareness.

‘The vast majority of these cases are legitimate. However, unfortunately we do believe that whiplash fraud is on the increase and we are working with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to try and cut down this kind of crime.’

Whiplash claims don’t always end with compensation and can often turn into long drawn-out procedures, including rehabilitation packages.

Often insurers offer additional services to fleets and drivers including accident rehabilitation.

Mark Keavney is product manager for commercial motors at Norwich Union, one insurance group which offers rehabilitation services.

He said: ‘When a driver who works for a fleet we insure is involved in an accident, which causes whiplash injury to passengers and/or other motorists, we will arrange for the passengers and the other motorists to receive all necessary physiotherapy, counselling, assessment and treatment as quickly as possible.

‘We have found that the success rates of such rehabilitation are very high in helping those involved in accidents get back to normal quickly and a large proportion of whiplash injuries can be treated effectively with one or two consultations.’

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