Many Cars Rank High for Whiplash Risk

Most Cars Tested Are Poorly Equipped to Handle Rear End Crashes

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 16, 2004 -- Of all the cars on the road, which ones do the best job of curbing whiplash risk when hit from behind? Certain models of Volvo, Saab, Jaguar S-Type, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen New Beetle fit the bill, according to the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The IIHS recently examined a wide range of late-model cars from various makers, paying special attention to seat/head restraint combinations, which can protect from whiplash injury from rear end crashes.

First, experts rated 97 seat/head restraint combinations available in 88 car models sold in the U.S.

Strategic seat/head restraint geometry can help prevent whiplash by keeping the head and torso aligned, reducing the risk of the head snapping forward and then jerking back in a rear-impact accident.

Next, 63 cars with 73 good or adequate seat/head geometry ratings were smashed into from behind, with crash-test dummies to show whiplash danger. The test simulated a parked car being rear-ended by a vehicle of the same weight going 20 miles per hour.

Only eight of the 73 seat/head restraints earned an overall "good" rating on crash testing, 16 gained an acceptable score, and 19 earned ratings that were marginal. In alphabetical order, those cars which scored a "good" rating were:

  • Jaguar S-Type: 2005 models, all seats
  • Saab 9-2X: 2005 models, all seats made after September 2004, active head restraints
  • Saab 9-3: 2005 models, all seats, active head restraints
  • Subaru Impreza: 2005 models, all seats made after September 2004, active head restraints
  • Volkswagen New Beetle: 2004-05 models, seats with adjustable lumbar, active head restraints
  • Volvo S40: 2004-05 models, all seats made after February 2004
  • Volvo S60: 2003-05 models, all seats
  • Volvo S80: 2003-05 models, all seats

However, 30 seat/head restraint combinations were rated "poor" in the crash tests, and 24 seat/head restraint combinations flunked the geometry test, disqualifying them from the crash test and automatically earning a "poor" rating.

"Good geometry is a simple and necessary first step toward adequate protection, and seats with bad geometry cannot begin to protect many taller occupants," says IIHS chief operating officer Adrian Lund, in a news release.

Neck injuries cost at least $7 billion per year in insurance claims, according to the IIHS.

Whiplash Symptoms May Be Delayed

About 20% of people involved in rear-end collisions later have neck pain, which may develop into whiplash, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Neck pain may be present right away or may not develop for a couple of days. Other symptoms include neck stiffness, headache, and dizziness. Rarely, people may develop memory loss and trouble concentrating, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Treatment for whiplash may include medication, a neck collar (usually worn for two to three weeks), and physical therapy. Whiplash pain generally resolves within a few days or weeks. Most people completely recover within three months of the injury; however, some people continue to have neck pain and headaches.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "Dynamically Tested Seat/Head Restraints," Nov. 14, 2004. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "Seat/Head Restraints Not Dynamically Tested Because of Inadequate Geometry." News release, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Associated Press. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
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