Avoid Head, Neck Injuries Simply

Using equipment that is already in your car can avert costly injury

A important piece of safety equipment that is in almost every vehicle on the road is being misused and ignored. The head restraint will be right behind your neck when you get in your car next time, and our guess is it is misaligned to the point where it might be useless to prevent serious head and neck injuries.

More than 20 percent of drivers in rear-impact crashes report neck injuries

Each year there are nearly 2.5 million rear-impact vehicle crashes, and insurance industry data show that more than 20 percent of drivers in rear-impact crashes report neck injuries. That’s more than 400,000 auto-related neck injuries per year. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), neck injuries cost the auto insurance industry, and ultimately consumers, more than $7 billion a year.

Happily, there is a solution. IIHS technical studies have shown properly-positioned head restraints can significantly reduce such injuries, but the problem is most people spend little or no time in their vehicles positioning the head restraints. A survey from Progressive Insurance found that only 14 percent of drivers know the optimal positioning of a head restraint. Further, 18 percent of drivers think all vehicles come with head restraints already properly positioned.

The ironic fact is auto companies spend millions of dollars putting head restraints into vehicles each year only to have the vast majority of people ignore them. The Progressive survey of 22,600 drivers whose primary vehicles have adjustable head restraints show that 40 percent of drivers do not adjust their head restraint when driving a newly purchased vehicle, and 57 percent don’t adjust them even after someone else has driven their vehicle. In addition, 13 percent of drivers “have given no thought” to how high their head restraint should be to protect them from neck injury.

One-third of your auto insurance premium pays for injuries

“Fixing the position of your head restraint can help reduce your chances of a neck injury in a rear-impact crash, but the survey tells us that few people are doing it,” said John Bindseil, an auto claims expert. “More than one-third of your auto insurance premium goes to coverages that pay for injuries caused by a car crash, including neck injuries. People should know that proper head restraint adjustment cannot only help protect them from injury, but can also help lower the medical costs associated with accidents — which can ultimately help keep the cost of insurance down for all consumers.”

The optimal head restraint position is close to the back of the head of a seated occupant — no more than two and a half inches from the back of the head. The top of the head restraint should ideally be as high as the top of the occupant’s head and no lower than two and a half inches below the top of the head. It’s also important to note that many adjustable head restraints cannot be locked into place or positioned properly for all drivers. It is not a one-size-fits-all device.

Auto journalist Luigi Fraschini has frequently been accused of being a pain in the neck, especially by his wife.

About Tom Ripley 54 Articles
Born in Boston, Tom Ripley has been writing about the automotive industry and the human condition for more than a decade. He's a frequent traveller but nominally resides in Villeperce, France.