November 15, 2004

Insurance company CEO urges drivers to adjust head restraints properly

Seattle, Washington – PEMCO Insurance CEO Stan McNaughton never gave more than a passing thought to the head restraints in his Ford Aerostar — not until a driver slammed into his vehicle from behind, injuring his neck. Now, in addition to his role as PEMCO’s top executive, McNaughton has become a vocal advocate on the proper use of head restraints.

“Making people aware of the need to properly set their head restraints benefits everyone,” said McNaughton. “First, we want to help people prevent serious injuries. Second, we want to lower the costs of paying claims for medical services and loss of income.”

Neck injuries in rear-end crashes are common. According to IIHS, a well-designed restraint can lower the risk of whiplash injury by reducing the differential motion of an occupant’s head and torso in a rear-end crash. Unsupported, the head will lag behind as the torso accelerates when a car is hit from behind.
In the U.S., whiplash injuries alone account for billions of dollars in insurance claims each year, according to the Insurance Research Council statistics. For McNaughton, his 1991 accident was an eye-opener because the impact wasn’t even all that severe.

“The damage to the vehicle was about $1,000,” he said. “What amazed me was how much the head restraint hit under the back of my skull and extended my neck. It was a fixed restraint, but it was short. That raised the question of how they ever came up with a restraint that height, given all the different-size people who use those vehicles.”

“In rear-end collisions where an adjustable head restraint is set too low, it can work as a fulcrum,” said McNaughton. “It overextends the head and neck.”

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