When I recently got rid of my 15 year old car for one that is only 2 years old, I was amazed and impressed at the number of genuine safety features, many of them hidden or not obvious. Cars are simply much safer now than they were, even a decade ago, not to mention when I was a youth. Here’s a dramatic example comparing the crashworthiness of a 1959 Chevy Bel Air and a 2009 Chevy Malibu:
Injuries are the major cause of death up to age 44 and the most frequent cause is motor vehicle accidents. Car crashes also cause injury and disability, and one of the more common comes from the sudden acceleration of the head in a collision followed by a sudden deceleration. You can clearly see both in the video. The resulting transfer of injury to the cervical spine causes the notorious whiplash injury. Long a staple of anti-personal injury lawyer barbs, whiplash itself is no joke, and while head restraints have improved the situation, there is still a some way to go. Many times they are improperly positioned and can change position in a crash. A recent paper in the International Journal of Vehicle Systems Modelling and Testing describes a new Italian design that allows optimum positioning and locks the headrest in place during a collision:
Part of the problem is the drivers and their passengers are unaware of the personal harm a whiplash injury can do and usually fail to adjust their headrest to the optimum height. Moreover, common headrests are often difficult to adjust and are pressed downwards by the head in a collision and so do nothing to save the person from injury. A headrest that can be adjusted without fuss to the optimum safety and comfort level is needed, the team says. The team has studied the biomechanics of whiplash injury, so named because of the way the head moves when involved in a rear-end collision. (ScienceDaily)
There is no picture of the head rest. But one of the things I’ve observed about car safety features is that many are designed, like this one, to mitigate the effects of an accident, with less attention to their possible effect on causing the accident. Both the headrests and the aerodynamic designs of modern cars for fuel efficiency have the effect of interfering with visibility. So while I might be safer after the crash, I am more likely to get into a crash because I can’t see the vehicle in my blind spot. I am quite paranoid about the blind spot and routinely turn my head before changing lanes, but recently I’ve rented some cars where even turning my whole body to look through the right rear window didn’t help because of the positioning of the roof supports at the rear (the Subaru Impreza was especially bad in this regard). The idea that a good head restraint design will reduce whiplash is plausible but remains to be seen. But at the same time I hope they are taking into account the other aspects of the intricate but taken for granted set human factors we call “driving.”
Maybe I’ll send them a text message the next time I think of it when I’m on the road.