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Consumer Reports

New auto seat designs reduce neck injuries | (UPI) -- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Tuesday reported the new designs for car seats and head restraints apparently are reducing neck injuries in rear-end collisions.

The institute studied data on 2,641 accidents supplied by Progressive and State Farm insurance companies.

"The redesigned seats and head restraints are all intended to reduce the differential motion of head and torso," the institute said. "The question addressed in the institute's new research is whether these redesigned seats and head restraints are doing a better job of reducing neck injuries in rear-end crashes compared with the designs in older models of the same cars.

"There's evidence that many of the new designs are working."

Head restraints have been required in cars since 1969 but until recently, many were not high enough or close enough to be effective.

The institute cited Ford as making the best improvements in head restraints, especially in its Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable models, and Saab for a system that raises the head restraint in the event of a crash. The institute noted some General Motors and Nissan models also are equipped with the Saab system.

"Volvo and Toyota focused on seatbacks, designing them to yield in rear-end crashes to reduce the forward acceleration of occupants' torsos," the institute said. "Volvo dubs its design a whiplash injury prevention system, which involves a specially designed hinge at the bottom of the seatback, allowing it to move rearward to reduce the forward acceleration of the torso."

The key to reducing whiplash injury risk, the institute said, is to keep head and torso moving in unison.

The institute said neck injury claims have been reduced sharply in accidents involving the improved systems -- 43 percent in incidents involving Saab, General Motors and Nissan models, 18 percent for Ford and 49 percent for Volvo. Toyota claims actually increased 15 percent but the institute discounted that result, saying there were too few accidents involving Toyotas to make the statistics reliable.

"Recently, many automakers have been redesigning head restraints and seatbacks, in most cases by improving restraint geometry and in other cases by adding features intended to reduce neck injury risk dynamically during crashes," the institute said.

In accidents involving women, the results were even more dramatic.

"Throughout whiplash injury research, the finding has been that women are at greater risk, so it's good that the women seem to be enjoying the benefits of the improved design," said Adrian Lund, chief operating officer and author of the research report.

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