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Here is a terrific article from consumer reports.org in relation to head restraints and whiplash related injuries. I urge you to read this to make sure that you and your family are well protected in the event of a collision. I would also advise you to look at the head supports that you can buy at the bottom of this page if your car does not already have decent head restraints.

Many cars don’t protect against whiplash injuries

How to save your neck in a rear-end crash

A rear-end crash occurs every 17 seconds in the U.S. But a surprising number of vehicles offer inadequate protection from the whiplash injuries that can result, according to crash-test data and our own analysis.

Many whiplash injuries could be minimized or prevented altogether with better head restraints and seatbacks, especially for backseat passengers. Yet the problem gets relatively little attention. Automakers are inconsistent in providing effective head restraints in all seating positions. And auto-safety advocates tend to focus on other concerns, largely because “rear-enders” are rarely life-threatening.

A new federal requirement that takes effect for 2009 passenger vehicles should help, but it doesn’t go far enough.

To compound the problem, even if their cars have adequate restraints, most people don’t know how to properly position them or don’t take the time to do it, leaving themselves more vulnerable to serious injury.

This report will tell you what to look for, what to avoid, and how to protect yourself from neck injuries.

Most cars fall short

Neck injuries are the most commonly reported type of crash-related injury. Whiplash refers to the rapid snapping back of a person’s head during a collision, which hyperextends the neck and damages nerves and ligaments, often resulting in chronic symptoms such as persistent pain and lack of mobility. It can occur at crash speeds as low as 10 mph.

Lisa Salisbury is a recent victim. In October 2006, Salisbury, 39, an art director, was driving on a rural highway in Stamford, Conn., when she stopped her 2002 Subaru Legacy wagon for workers who had blocked off one lane. The driver behind her, however, didn’t stop.

“I felt something pop in my neck,” Salisbury recalls. “My head snapped back and then forward when I bounced off the seatback. My shoulder belt actually frayed.” X-rays showed she had fractured parts of two vertebrae and severed a ligament. “My doctor told me the bones would heal by themselves but that I’m likely to develop arthritis there. Now, seven months later, I get agonizing headaches whenever it’s about to rain.”

Salisbury is not alone. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is funded by auto insurers, roughly 2 million whiplash claims are filed every year. An estimated 200,000 of those are serious enough to cause long-term medical problems. Taller people are most susceptible, medical experts say.

IIHS crash tests suggest why injuries are prevalent. The IIHS is the only organization that conducts dynamic tests of front seats and head restraints, and makes rear-crash-protection ratings available to the public. Of the approximately 175 vehicles for which the institute now has overall ratings, only about one-third are rated Good or Acceptable. Nearly a third are rated Marginal, and more than a third are rated Poor.

Since 1969, the government has mandated that all passenger cars have head restraints on outboard front seats. But IIHS tests, which simulate a stationary vehicle being rear-ended by a vehicle of the same weight at 20 mph, have found that even head restraints that are properly positioned don’t necessarily provide good protection.

“Most of the time what you’ll find is the seatback is too stiff,” explains David Viano, a former General Motors safety engineer and seat designer. “Ideally, the top part of the seatback, where your shoulders hit it, should be soft and pliable. If you can’t sink into the seat, you rebound off of it during the crash, and that can cause the injury.”

Another variable is that performance can vary from one seat option to another. For instance, the BMW 5 Series with base or “sport” seats is rated poorly by the IIHS, but with “comfort” seats it’s acceptable.

Ideally, the seat/head-restraint combination should be designed so that your torso, neck, and head move in the same plane. That means your head and shoulders should stay in about the same position relative to each other as they would in a natural sitting position.

“Not everyone has the same posture,” says Matthew P. Reed, an associate research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. “So it’s a balancing act for the carmakers: If the backset is too great, the restraint loses effectiveness. But if the restraint is so close that it interferes with a person’s preferred head position, then consumers complain about it, or even remove it.”

Dan Jarvis, a Ford safety spokesman, says automakers are improving. “Now that manufacturers know and understand the test criteria,” he says, “they can build for that, and you’ll see improved ratings.”

Because rear crashes are rarely fatal and because the IIHS tests are relatively new, Consumer Reports does not currently use them as a prerequisite for recommending a vehicle. We are examining how to weigh rear-crash protection compared with protection for front and side crashes, which are more lethal.

More problems in the rear

The rear seat in many vehicles is still the Wild West of rear-crash protection. Consumer Reports auto-test engineers evaluate rear-seat head restraints on every vehicle we test. We’ve found that many outboard seats use integral restraints, which often are little more than bumps on the top of the seatback. Many vehicles also lack head restraints for the center-rear position, which isn’t required by the U.S. government. In Europe, it is required.

We measure the height of the head restraints and make sure they can stay fixed at least 29.5 inches above the seat cushion. If a restraint isn’t high enough to be effective in preventing whiplash, we note that in our monthly auto tests. Of the 2007 vehicles we’ve recently tested, only a little more than half have restraints in the rear outboard positions that are tall enough without adjustment. Only half have any restraints in the rear-center position.

More vehicles are being made with effective, adjustable head restraints in all rear positions. But those can create another problem, making it difficult for the driver to see out the rear windows. To address that, many restraints can be pushed down into a recess in the seatback or can fold out of the way when the rear seat is unoccupied. We prefer the type that folds forward into the seating area, as in Volvos, because they force rear passengers to put them up before they can get comfortable.

Good positioning is critical

Whatever car you drive, you’ll get the maximum whiplash protection from a head restraint that’s properly positioned. To work well, the top of the restraint should reach at least as high as the top of your ears and be relatively close—3 inches or less—to the back of your head.

Adjustable restraints are the most common type. They can be raised or lowered to the proper height, and many can be tilted toward or away from the head. But they’re only effective if occupants take the time to adjust them properly. Many people don’t, which increases their risk of serious injury.

Progressive Insurance found in a 2002 survey that 40 percent of drivers did not adjust their head restraint when driving a newly purchased vehicle, and 57 percent didn’t adjust them after someone else had driven their vehicle. Only 14 percent of drivers knew the optimal positioning of a head restraint. In 2003, the IIHS did an observational survey in Washington, D.C., and Charlottes ville, Va., that revealed that about 56 percent of male drivers and 24 percent of female drivers had head restraints positioned too low.

Some automakers have introduced “active” head restraints, which automatically move up and forward to catch a person’s head in a rear crash. Those are usually effective, but there’s no guarantee. In the latest IIHS tests, two-thirds of the 37 vehicles that had them received a Good or Acceptable score. The other third were Marginal or Poor. “This underscores that it’s not just the head restraint but the seat architecture that determines what’s going to happen,” says Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS.

Next steps in head restraints

In 2005 the federal government upgraded the head-restraint rule, which becomes mandatory with 2009 passenger vehicles built on or after Sept. 1, 2008. That rule, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 202, specifies that front outboard head restraints have to reach a minimum height of 29.5 inches upward from an occupant’s hip and must be able to be set within 2.2 inches behind a seated person’s head. Currently, the government specifies a height of 27.5 inches with no backset requirement.

“New regulation brings the height requirement into line with European standards,” says David Zuby, IIHS senior vice president. He says that additional provisions in the rule “should make our head restraints even better than what the Europeans require.”

While the law is a step forward, Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, believes it still falls short. For instance, it doesn’t require vehicles to have rear-seat head restraints. It mandates only that if the manufacturer puts them in outboard positions, the restraints have to meet the new height requirement. CU would like to see backset specifications for rear restraints and restraint requirements for the rear-center position. If the government won’t require it, CU urges automakers to take the initiative themselves.