Mike Stevens | Jul 23, 2009

INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH undertaken by NRMA Insurance in Australia, Thatcham Motor Insurance Research Centre in the UK and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the US, shows that while new cars offer better whiplash prevention, many could be better.

Testing 148 new cars, the results of the combined research reveals that 71 percent of new cars rate as either 'good' - the highest possible rating - or 'acceptable', compared to just 31 percent achieving these ratings five years ago when this type of testing commenced.

The tests included a dynamic test that simulated a 15km/h rear-end collision using a crash dummy, and a static test that looked at the height of the head restraint, the distance from the passenger's head and the effectiveness of the surrounding cushion.

“Volvo and Saab are two manufacturers that have made significant advancements in improving head restraint design,” NRMA Insurance Head of Research, Robert McDonald, said.

“Volvo, for example, has seats which support the driver or passenger's entire back and head. In the event of a rear-end collision the back rest follows the occupant’s movement forward thereby providing support as the body is thrown in a whiplash motion.

Of the Australian-produced vehicles, the Ford FG Falcon fared best, achieving a 'good' rating - in line with the Falcon's five star ANCAP rating.

ford-falcon_01

The Holden VE Commodore achieved a rating of 'good' in static tests, but managed just a 'marginal' rating for models fitted with non-active head restraints rising to 'acceptable' for those fitted with active head restraints.

Similarly, the Toyota Aurion achieved a rating of 'good' in static tests, with a rating of 'acceptable' in dynamic tests leading to an overall rating of 'acceptable'.

Despite the overall improvement, Mr McDonald of NRMA pointed to the 'marginal' and 'poor' scores of the remaining 29 percent - particularly in the case of commercial vehicles - as being a concern.

“Unfortunately however there does seem to be a trend to skip on safety features in commercial vehicles, and this has been highlighted in the current set of results. All three commercial vehicles which were tested fared poorly," Mr McDonald said.

“Hopefully manufacturers that have performed poorly take these results into consideration and realise head restraint design can improve significantly for little additional cost. Several manufacturers, for example, have received good results despite not having an active ead restraint.”

Mr McDonald said treatment for whiplash costs the Australian community hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and remains a common injury in motor vehicle collisions.

“The likelihood of a neck injury occurring in a car crash can be significantly reduced by better head restraint design. Passengers can also be proactive in adjusting the head restraint to suit their seating position,” he said.

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