New car seat designs and safety tech to eliminate whiplash injury
Whiplash injuries can be serious. When your car is hit from behind, your neck can distort into an S-shape and the pain can last for weeks. Treatment is difficult, but the best prevention is a good car seat with a head restraint (head rest) that can be positioned to support your head properly. They’re not that common, however.
When insurers first tested car seats for whiplash injury protection in 2002, vehicles with otherwise good reputations for safety, such as BMW and VW, turned out to offer relatively poor protection for necks. By 2006, it was still just one in six new cars that had good seats.
Things changed when Euro NCAP started awarding points to cars with good whiplash injury protection in 2008. Car designers took notice and five years on more than 90% of new cars now have front seats that protect properly.
These cut the risk of a serious whiplash injury by around 40%, says Matthew Avery of Thatcham, the insurance research organisation that pioneered whiplash testing with Euro NCAP. “Good seats don’t cost more,” says Avery. “Some cars have clever head restraints that trigger in an accident but it’s not necessary. The latest Golf just has a good seat that does the job.”
Plans to eliminate whiplash injury
The ultimate aim is to eliminate whiplash injuries completely. “Vehicles fitted with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) are going to fix the problem,” says Avery. “The technology will prevent many crashes and whiplash injuries.”
From next year it will be a part of Euro NCAP’s five-star safety ratings. It should soon become standard equipment on all cars, as fundamental to the safety as ABS or seatbelts. In the meantime, the rear seats of most vehicles still need improving.
“Some cars have clever head restraints that trigger in an accident but it’s not necessary. The latest Golf just has a good seat that does the job”Matthew Avery,
Thatcham’s Head of Research
Adults in rear seats at greater risk
“The rear seats of 90% of vehicles are still poor in terms of whiplash protection,” says Avery. “Children in safety seats or boosters are better protected, but adults in the back are at greater risk of whiplash injury.”
Most manufacturers use a hook-design for rear head restraints that sits flush with the seat back to improve rearward visibility. The problem is that when people climb in the back, they don’t adjust the head restraint to sit behind their head. In a rear crash, their neck is exposed.
New whiplash tests
Thatcham has helped to develop the new test that will be part of Euro NCAP’s assessment from next year. It checks that people of all sizes can have adequate head support and whether the design encourages people to position the head support properly.
In Volvos, the head restraint juts forward at 90° so that people naturally lift it up and adjust it when they get in. If car designers respond as they did to Euro NCAP in 2008, rear-seat protection against whiplash injury should improve quickly.