A Real Pain in the Neck
Sadly, this cliché is based on a truth that hurts us all right in the wallet. Each year there are nearly two 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 400,000 auto-related neck injuries per year. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), neck injuries cost the auto insurance industry, and ultimately consumers, more than $7 billion a year.
There is a solution. IIHS' own 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 new survey from Progressive Insurance, one of the nation's top insurance groups, has 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.
Each year auto companies spend millions of dollars putting head restraints into vehicles only to have the vast majority of people ignore them as if they were a Britney Spears movie. As part of its ongoing market research, Progressive conducted the survey of 22,600 drivers whose primary vehicle has adjustable head restraints in an effort to understand their perceptions and use of head restraints. The survey results 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.
"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, medical claims manager for Progressive. "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 some adjustable head restraints cannot be locked into place or positioned properly for all drivers," said Bindseil. "In these cases, drivers should do what they can to protect themselves, such as checking head restraint positioning frequently or adjusting their seat backs.
Later this year, the IIHS will release the results of a study that looks at improved head restraint designs and their ability to minimize the occurrence of neck injuries in rear-impact crashes.
Cleveland-based auto journalist Luigi Fraschini has frequently been accused of being a pain in the neck, especially by his wife.