Protect Your Head by Using Your Headrest Correctly

 Author: Amy S. Whitelaw, Richmond, Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer

Before we drive our cars, we take numerous precautions to ensure a safe trip. Wearing seatbelts, adjusting mirrors, making sure our tires are properly inflated, and that our brakes are in working condition help to protect passengers in our vehicles. There’s one more thing passengers can do to help protect themselves in the event of a car accident: properly adjusting their headrests.

When a vehicle is in an accident, passengers can experience a common injury known as whiplash.[1]  Whiplash occurs when a person’s neck snaps back and forth like a cracking of a whip, causing neck pain, stiffness, and headaches.[2] The National Highway Traffic Safety Agency estimates that 272,464 whiplash injuries occur annually.[3]  Studies show that whiplash most often occurs in rear-end collisions, where the head may hyperextend beyond its normal range of motion due to the force from behind.[4]  While you may not be able to prevent a collision, you can reduce the risk of whiplash from an accident just by adjusting your headrests. 

The first step is to look at the effectiveness of your car’s headrests.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests head restraints and rates them as either good, adequate, marginal or poor.[5] For cars manufactured in 2009 or later, headrests have been subject to stricter standards and there has been a dramatic improvement in headrest effectiveness since then.[6]  By 2014, 95% of vehicles manufactured received a “good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.[7]  Research shows a 15% lower injury rate for vehicles with head restraints rated “good” compared to those vehicles that received a “poor” rating.[8] Long-term injuries (lasting three months or more) were 35% lower in “good” head restraint vehicles.[9]

To reduce your risk for whiplash, proper headrest placement is crucial.  Even if your vehicle received a “poor” rating for head restraints, you can still protect yourself. Your headrest can prevent whiplash injuries, but only if it is properly adjusted to provide maximum protection.  Raise your headrest as high as the top of your head, if possible.  At the very least, the top of the headrest should reach as high as the top of your ears.  The headrest should be no further than four inches from the back of your head so that it may support you should you be in an accident.[10]

You may not have thought of your headrest as a safety feature like you would seatbelt or an airbag, but it can help keep you safe and reduce the risk of whiplash.  Take a few minutes before your next drive to adjust it properly so that your neck and head will stay safe if you’re in an accident.

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[2] Id.





[7] Id.


[9] Id.


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