The purpose of the headrest is to prevent whiplash injuries from rear and even side collisions. Whiplash occurs when the neck snaps back from a sudden movement, usually upon impact in an auto collision. The symptoms of whiplash can be as mild as neck stiffness or tenderness, or as serious as decreased range of movement, dislocation or fracture. Whiplash can also include difficulty swallowing, headaches and memory loss.
Insurance companies spend approximately $4 billion annually to help people recover from soft tissue injuries, such as whiplash, resulting from vehicle collisions. Rear-end collisions account for 80 percent of these injuries.
Research by the Insurance Bureau of Canada demonstrates that 40 percent of whiplash injuries can be prevented by a properly adjusted headrest.
The right position is critical
Research shows that a poorly positioned headrest can cause more serious injury than no headrest at all. Keep these two points in mind:
- The top of the headrest should be at the top of your head – or at least as high as the top of your ears. If it is lower than your ears, in a collision, your head will be thrown back over the headrest causing severe whiplash.
- The second requirement is that the back of your head should be about five centimetres from the headrest. Up to ten centimetres is acceptable, but the further away your head is from the headrest, the greater the distance your head will travel before hitting it in a collision.
Tips to prevent whiplash
- Raise your headrest – As research shows, most headrests aren’t high enough to prevent injury. The top of your headrest should be at the top of your head, or at least the top of your ears.
- Always wear your seat belt – Your seat belt keeps you in position during impact.
- Sit up straight – Sitting upright helps you stay focused and drive safer, and it enables your seatbelt and headrest to protect you better in the event of a collision.
- Don’t tailgate – Give yourself plenty of room between vehicles to hit the brakes should the car in front of you stop suddenly. That way, you won’t catch the driver behind you by surprise either.
- Position yourself for a crash – If you do have time to react before a collision, lean back so that your head is touching the head restraint and look straight ahead to minimize any whiplash effect.
The next time you get into your car, tilt your head back to touch your headrest. If it’s too low or too far away, adjust it accordingly before driving off. This small action could save your neck.