How To Properly Adjust Your Headrest To Prevent Whiplash

Automobile Collisions | Driving

By Arthur D. Leritz

January 12, 2022

Women in Car

You may not give it much thought when driving, but a properly adjusted headrest in your car can reduce the chance of a neck or head injury in a motor vehicle collision by 11%.[1] I used to think of this often when my wife had a 1967 VW bug as her daily driver – it had no headrests at all.  Head restraints have come a long way since first being introduced by Volvo in 1968, but all too often headrests are not properly adjusted or are inadequately designed, especially for passengers in the back seat.  Whatever you drive, a properly positioned headrest will provide the maximum protection if you are involved in a rear-end collision.

In the United States, rear-end crashes occur every 17 seconds.[2]  A properly adjusted headrest can mean the difference between a mild injury or serious injuries when a motor vehicle collision occurs.

A direct injury can occur to the neck muscles caused by reflex muscle activation in response to a rear-end motor vehicle collision.  This occurs most often in the sternocleidomastoid muscle and the semispinalis muscle.  In addition, elevated levels of the enzyme creatine kinase, a marker for muscle injury, have been recorded in whiplash patients 24 hours after the collision.

There is a reliable way of properly adjusting the headrest in your car. Just follow these simple steps:

  • Sit in your driver seat straight up, not leaning to the side.
  • Ideally, the top of the head rest should be as high as the top of your head, but no less than the top of your ears.
  • When seated normally, your head should be no more than 4 inches away from the headrest.[3]

Several modern cars come with active headrests, meaning the headrest will adjust automatically in a rear-end collision by moving up and forward to cradle the head.  Be sure to follow the manufacturer recommendations when adjusting this type of head rest.

If you are considering purchasing a new vehicle for 2022, the following are top-rated by the Institute for Highway Safety for their head restraints: [4]

Small Cars:

  • Honda Civic
  • Honda Insight
  • Mazda 3
  • 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

Midsize cars:

  • Honda Accord
  • Kia K5
  • Mazda 6
  • Nissan Altima and Maxima
  • Subaru Legacy and Outback
  • Ford Mustang
  • Toyota Camry

Midsize Luxury Cars:

  • Acura TLX
  • Lexus ES 350 and IS
  • Mercedes C-Class
  • Tesla Model 3
  • Volvo S60 and V60

Large Cars:

  • Kia Stinger

Large Luxury Cars:

  • Audi A6 and A7
  • Genesis G70, G80, and G90
  • Volvo S90, V90 and V90 Cross Country

Small SUVs:

  • Chevrolet Trailblazer
  • Ford Bronco
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Mazda CX-3, and CX-30, and CX-5
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Subaru Forester
  • Volvo XC40

Midsize SUVs:

  • Ford Explorer
  • Hyundai Palisade and Santa Fe
  • Mazda Cx-9
  • Nissan Murano
  • Subaru Ascent
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Volkswagen ID.4

Midsize Luxury SUVs:

  • Acura MDX and RDX
  • Audi Q5
  • Cadillac XT6
  • Genesis GV70 and GV80
  • Hyundai Nexo
  • Lexus NX
  • Mercedes GLE-Class
  • Tesla Model Y
  • Volvo XC60 and XC90

If you are looking to purchase a used vehicle and want to check the safety ratings for its head restraint system, go to www.iihs.org and use the search function to find your vehicle.

The attorneys at Adler Giersch. P.S.  stand ready and willing to assist your patients when they have been involved in a motor vehicle collision.

[1] https://www.iihs.org/news/detail/good-head-restraints-reduce-injuries-by-11-percent#:~:text=An%20updated%20HLDI%2DIIHS%20analysis,restraints%20compared%20with%20poor%20ones.

[2] https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/how-to-save-your-neck-in-a-rear-end-crash/index.htm

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.iihs.org/ratings/top-safety-picks#award-winners

For more posts regarding collisions and vehicle safety, check out: here and here.