An Anti-whiplash Seat in Every Garage

An Anti-whiplash Seat in Every Garage

When Volvo first introduced their WHIPS anti-whiplash seat, few auto manufacturers showed much interest in following suit. After all, air bags were just becoming standard in most cars, was this taking this protection thing a bit far?

A news report published today tells us that this attitude is no longer acceptable in the automotive industry. A Hyundai with an anti-whiplash seat? Now that Volvo, Toyota, GM, Saab, BMW, and Mercedes have them, why not? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has confirmed that most of these new seat designs do reduce neck injury rates. In addition, they have begun testing seats with a newer dynamic technique and reporting the results of the tests.

This may be what has motivated Hyundai and others to invest in this important technology. It is no longer enough to have only good frontal and side impact rating; in the future seat design may be a deciding factor in consumer auto purchases.How do these seats work? Whiplash is not a whip or a lash, but rather an injury caused by the seat back being pushed forward while the head lags behind (at least in rear impact collisions, the most frequent cause of injury in crashes). This mechanism causes shear, compression, and other potentially damaging forces on the neck joints and ligaments. In addition, this unique movement momentarily increases the pressure in the fluid around the spinal cord. This new breed of anti whiplash seats all do the same thing, more or less; they reduce (not eliminate) the potentially damaging forces between the head and the torso. Some of the seats do this by allowing the torso to recline slightly at the same time as the head, so that the two stay in better alignment during a rear impact.

Other systems deploy a head restraint forward so that the head cannot move backwards relative to the torso. Neither system is perfect; injury frequency is typically reduced but not eliminated.So, could there be an anti-whiplash seat in every garage in the future? This is a distinct possibility, particularly if government auto manufacturing safety regulations change to include a seat safety standard. It is nice to see that car manufacturers (spurred on by our friends at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) are realizing that the best way to reduce whiplash injuries is to prevent them from happening.Christopher J. Centeno, M.D.Michael D Freeman PhD DC MPH


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