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Your Car’s Most Underappreciated Safety Feature

What is your car’s most underappreciated safety feature? You might not think of it as a safety device. Yet it prevents serious injuries every day when an auto accident occurs in Roanoke or the New River Valley. This safety feature is the headrest attached to the seat in your vehicle.

A rear-end accident occurs every 17 seconds in the U.S. Effective, properly designed, and properly positioned headrests prevent or mitigate head, neck and shoulder injuries in many of those accidents.

Building a Better Headrest

Prior to 1960 cars were not equipped with headrests of any kind. The first headrests were produced by Saab and Volvo for luxury cars. In less than a decade, headrests became standard equipment in most autos. A transition also occurred when they became appreciated as a safety feature rather than a comfort accessory in luxury vehicles.

After years of ongoing research and redesign, headrests are move effective in preventing hyperextension of the neck in a rear-end collision. The force of a rear-end collision, even at 5 mph, can be sufficient to cause the head to move backward due to inertia. Headrests are designed to prevent that backward movement of the head that can injure neck and shoulder muscles, tendons and ligaments or even serious spinal cord injuries.

In the U.S. headrests are mandatory equipment in all vehicles. Whether the headrest restraint is positioned on the back of the seat or it is integrated into the design of the seat, headrests have saved thousands from injury. Today, most headrests are adjustable to the height and size of the driver or passenger. The most effective designs at this time are:

  • An Active head restraint. This type of headrest is designed to automatically reposition during the impact from an accident to provide optimal protection for the individual.
  • Automatically adjusting head restraints. This type of restrain automatically adjusts the position of the headrest when the seat position is adjusted. This ensures that the headrest is positioned at the perfect angle and height to protect the individual.

A Second Function of Headrests

Headrests serve a second function for drivers and passengers, as well. They are intentionally designed to be detachable from the seat with only reasonable effort. The base is also sharp so that it can be used in an emergency situation to break car windows and escape. The windows are made to be easily breakable from the inside of the vehicle.

Positioning the Headrest

Maximum effectiveness of the headrest depends on proper positioning.

The headrest (head restraint) should be at least as high as the head’s center of gravity, approximately 3.4 – 4 inches below the top of the head or level with the top of the ears. The distance from the passenger’s head should be minimal, no more than 2 inches from the back of the head. Studies have found that headrests positioned 4 inches behind the head have been connected with increased neck injury symptoms in many rear-end crashes.

For some reason, we have not done a good job of communicating this information about headrests. It has, in fact, been the impetus behind the ongoing improvements in designs and the development of active head restraints and automatically adjusting head restraints. Many people do not know that headrests are detachable or that they are made to enable escape when you are trapped in a vehicle.

Remaining Design Issues

To date, a weakness remains in the head restraint systems available for the back seats of vehicles. In most cars, there is no head restraint in the center of the back seat and a less advanced design of the head restraints on each side.

One great challenge for designers is to make a headrest that can be stable at 29.5 inches above the seat cushion. Many of the existing designs are tall and fixed. This creates another challenge: it blocks visibility for the driver out the back window. Car manufacturers are working to create headrests for rear seats that can retract into a recessed area in the back of the seat or can fold out of the way when the seat is not being used. We are confident that the automotive industry and the various highway safety agencies will find a design that can provide the needed protection for passengers in the rear seat.

Headrests perform a vital function in vehicles. Their primary function of preventing hyperextension of the head in a rear-end collision makes this underappreciated safety feature a critical part of driver and passenger safety. When properly positioned, a headrest can prevent serious and painful injuries. In addition, they can be used for emergency escape from a vehicle.

Call Altizer Law, P.C.

If you or a loved one are injured in a rear-end accident, it is wise to be checked out either in an emergency room or by your own physician. If you have sustained a head, neck, spine or shoulder injury, you may be entitled to recover fair compensation for your injuries. Contact Altizer Law, P.C., for a free initial consultation to evaluate your accident and assess your rights. If you hire us, trusted attorney Bettina Altizer and her team will fight aggressively for you and for your rights.