Re­duce whiplash, ad­just head­rests

Lesotho Times - - Mo­tor­ing -

BER­LIN — The in­ci­dence of re­ported cases of whiplash has risen dra­mat­i­cally in many Western coun­tries over the past three decades but a new gen­er­a­tion of head re­straints are help­ing to re­duce the num­ber of such in­juries to mo­torists in­volved in car ac­ci­dents.

The Kamei com­pany pro­duced the first safety head­rests for cars in 1952, although the first ver­sion was con­sid­ered as much as a cush­ion for the driver and pas­sen­ger’s head as a safety fea­ture.

It took many years be­fore head re­straints be­came stan­dard in cars as a means of pro­tect­ing the oc­cu­pants of a ve­hi­cle from suf­fer­ing head or neck in­juries in the event of a rear-end or side-im­pact col­li­sion.

Although a patent for an au­to­mo­bile “head­rest” was granted to Cal­i­for­nian Ben­jamin Katz as far back as 1921, head re­straints were only first man­dated by the US Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NHTSA) in all new cars sold in 1969.

Mass in­juries

Ac­cord­ing to Wol­fram Hell, an ac­ci­dent re­searcher at the Lud­wig Max­i­m­il­ian Uni­ver­sity in Mu­nich, be­tween 60 and 80 per­cent of all peo­ple who suf­fer in­juries in a car ac­ci­dent, com­plain of whiplash.

“It is a mass phe­nom­e­non,” he says.

Stiff­ness of the neck, se­vere pain on move­ment or re­stricted move­ment after sev­eral days are typ­i­cal symp­toms, but there can also be long-term con­se­quences in­clud­ing headaches, dizzi­ness, and tin­gling in the arms.

Ad­just it prop­erly

Part of the prob­lem is due to the neg­li­gence on the part of driv­ers and pas­sen­gers alike, who fail to ad­just seats and head re­straints be­fore com­menc­ing a jour­ney.

“The num­ber of in­juries could be re­duced sig­nif­i­cantly if the head and back were cor­rectly sup­ported,” ex­plains Hell.

For ex­am­ple, even the best head re­straints are of lit­tle use if the driver is slouched in his seat be­cause he wants to lean on the cen­tre arm­rest.

As a rule, the seat back should be as up­right as pos­si­ble and in con­tact with the driver’s back.

The ped­als should be eas­ily reach­able to pre­vent a mis­align­ment of the body, while the head re­straint should be no more than two to three cen­time­tres from the head.

De­sign­ers for the ma­jor ve­hi­cle mak­ers have for the past two decades been look­ing at ways of re­duc­ing the num­ber of whiplash in­juries caused through mo­tor ac­ci­dents, re­sult­ing in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ver­sions.

Ac­tive head­rests

As well as the tra­di­tional “pas­sive” re­straint, there is now the “ac­tive” ver­sion which au­to­mat­i­cally moves for­ward to sup­port the head dur­ing ac­ci­dents, thereby re­duc­ing the whiplash ef­fect.

There are also what are called “pro-ac­tive” re­straints, which con­tain sen­sors that iden­tify a rear-end col­li­sion above a cer­tain sever­ity.

For ex­am­ple, the head­rests used by Mercedes re­lease a pre-ten­sioned spring, which helps to slide each head re­straint for­wards and up­wards in or­der to sup­port the heads of the front pas­sen­gers.

After re­lease, the head­rests can be re­set to the ini­tial po­si­tion.

Hell be­lieves sup­ports and seats should be de­vel­oped to­gether, which would re­duce the need for ac­tive head­rests but most consumers still find it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out the safety fea­tures in­volved.

“It is not pos­si­ble to judge a seat’s qual­ity sim­ply by look­ing at it,” he says.

In­stead, Hell rec­om­mends po­ten­tial car buy­ers first look at the result of crash test re­sults from or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Euro NCAP.

— Sapa-dpa

The best way to make these ad­just­ments is to have an­other per­son ad­just the head re­straint for you the first time while you sit prop­erly in the seat

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