21 Sep Avoid Whiplash by Properly Adjusting Your Head Restraint
If you are wondering what a head restraint is in your vehicle, it’s okay, most people call it the headrest, but the correct function of that head restraint is to keep your head from whipping around in the event of a rear-end collision. Unfortunately, many drivers never learn how to properly adjust the headrest to avoid whiplash and whiplash-associated-disorders (WAD) that occur from suddenly flexing and extending the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the neck and shoulders.
In extreme cases, the effects of whiplash can be permanent, when nerve damage occurs, but drivers who suffer whiplash after an accident typically just stretch or tear tendons and ligaments in the neck, head, and shoulders. Pain from ligament and tendon strains or tears can last as little as a few days and as long weeks or months.
There are three types of head restraints available today – manual, automatic, and dynamic. Manual head restraints are the typical variety with two metal rods that tend to be the most limited. Automatic can adjust to fit the driver when seat position is changed, without any input from the driver. Lastly, dynamic head restraints rise to meet and cradle the back of the head when a rear-end crash causes the drivers back to push into a plate located in the back of the seat.
Safety engineers developed dynamic head restraints for the sole purpose of limiting neck movement in the event of a crash. Auto manufacturers realized that many people were not adjusting their head restraints correctly, even though the industry knew that a properly aligned head restraint could lessen the chances of a neck injury by up to 43% in a rear-end collision. So, auto manufacturers and organizations like IIHS and the NHSTA worked together to create a solution that can react to the situation on its own.
No matter which type of head restraint your vehicle has, the most important thing you can do to prevent whiplash is to set your head restraint properly. Do not leave the head restraint all the way down if you are taller. The proper alignment should leave your head restraint in line with your head’s center of gravity. In addition, your head should sit two inches away from the head restraint – four inches is the threshold in which increased symptoms of neck injury are more likely.
Sitting up straight is also good for decreasing the risk of whiplash, and, as a bonus, it will help you breathe better and remain more alert – two positive benefits that can help avoid accidents altogether.
Finally, an excellent way to fend off whiplash is to drive defensively to avoid rear-end collisions. Always be sure to leave plenty of room between the vehicle in front of you. Also, pay attention to the traffic ahead of you as far down the road as you can see – if you can see brake lights, you should begin to apply the brakes slightly to warn the cars behind you of a change in traffic patterns. A combination of defensive driving and proper head restraint settings will keep your neck safer in the event of a rear-end collision.