Avoiding Whiplash

When did you last check the head restraint in your car? And do you adjust the head restraints to suit the size of your passengers – whether in the back or front? AA Insurance argues that making sure your head restraints are correctly adjusted should be as automatic as putting on a seat belt.

Most of us set off on a car journey expecting to reach our destination safely and, thankfully, most of us do. But accidents do happen, and quite apart from the hassle of sorting out the insurance claim, the least pleasant prospect is suffering an injury.

One of the most common injuries – and it can result from even a minor bump – is whiplash, or 'soft tissue neck injury'. This is most likely to be the result if you are struck from behind – when you are pushed forwards suddenly, possibly straight into the back of the car in front of you.

Pain in the neck

Your head can be violently 'whipped' back and forward and you might suffer anything from a few days of muscular discomfort to a serious neck injury that might put you in a surgical collar for a few months.

In fact, whiplash is the single most common personal injury suffered in car accidents – so much so that late last year, it was the topic of a special insurance industry conference.

Every day, 1,200 people make a claim for whiplash injury following a motor collision – and that is a 25% increase over the past five years.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, points out that the cost of these claims amounts to £1.9 billion every year or 80 per cent of the total paid out on personal injury claims.

"To put that into context, it costs the industry the equivalent of £66 for every single insurance policy sold in the UK – or 14% of the average premium paid for car insurance.*

"But while insurance can certainly help to overcome the financial pain of an injury, it won't take away the discomfort and inconvenience.

"The good news is that most whiplash injuries are avoidable. You can prevent yourselves and your passengers becoming whiplash victims by adjusting head restraints before you drive off.

"The top of the head restraint should be level with the top of the head, or at least no lower than eye level and as close as possible to, ideally touching, the restraint.

"And, given that most tail-end collisions are as a result of driving too close to the vehicle in front, you can avoid an accident – and the subsequent risk of injury – by keeping a safe distance. You should leave a gap of at least two seconds from the vehicle ahead."

Keep your distance

A good way to check the distance from the car in front is to note a point the car in front passes, such as a bridge of lamp post. If you pass that point before you manage to finish saying the mantra: 'Only a fool breaks the two-second rule' then you are too close.


* According to the benchmark AA British Insurance Premium Index, over the 12 months to October 2008 the average 'Shoparound' premium quoted for an annual comprehensive car insurance policy was &pond;486.45.