April 10, 2007

Seat/head restraints marginal or poor in two of every three models, says IIHS

Arlington, Virginia – Seat/head restraint designs in 22 current car models are rated “good” for rear crash protection, but those in 53 other cars are “marginal” or “poor”, according to the latest evaluations by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS found that seat/head restraints in more than 60 per cent of car models fall short of current state-of-the-art protection from neck injury or whiplash.

The ratings of good, acceptable, marginal or poor are based on geometric measurements of head restraints and simulated crashes that, together, assess how well people of different sizes would be protected in a typical rear-end collision.

Among the best seat designs are all Volvos; Audi A4, S4 and A6; Ford Five Hundred; Nissan Sentra and Versa; Saab 9-3; and Subaru Impreza and Legacy/Outback. Seat/head restraints in 12 other models are rated “acceptable”.

The IIHS began rear impact tests of seat/head restraints in 2004, when only eight car models earned “good” ratings.

“Even though we have more good performers, it’s disappointing that so many designs are still rated marginal or poor,” says Adrian Lund, IIHS President. “Neck injuries are common in crashes, and it’s not difficult or expensive to design more protective seat/head restraints. We’re simulating what happens when a vehicle rear-ends another one in commuter traffic or at a stop light. People think of head restraints as head rests, but they’re not. They’re important safety features. You’re more likely to need the protection of a good head restraint than the other safety devices in your vehicle, because rear-end crashes are so common.”

Neck injuries are the most common injuries reported in automobile collisions, accounting for 2 million insurance claims annually at a cost of at least US$8.5 billion.

Good seat/head restraint design keeps the head and torso moving together; if unsupported, an occupant’s head will lag behind the forward movement of the torso, causing the neck to bend and stretch.

Seat/head restraints that ranked “poor” in 2004 but improved to “good” include the Audi A4, Audi S4, Honda Civic, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Magentis and Nissan Sentra; the Mercedes E-Class and Subaru Legacy/Outback improved from “acceptable” to “good”. Improving to “acceptable” are the BMW 3 Series, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Lexus IS and Mercedes C-Class. However, the Chrysler 300, Kia Amanti and Nissan Altima, which rated “acceptable” in 2004, fell to “marginal” in the latest tests.

A list of IIHS ratings can be found at IIHS.org.

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