The gap and relative height of headrest behind drivers were determined for 1915 vehicles approaching an intersection on a two lane road. Vehicle type and headrest adjustment were also evaluated in film of normal driving taken by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Only 10% of drivers had headrests in the most favorable position to prevent neck extension during a rearend crash. 73% of cars had adjustable headrests, but only a quarter were placed in the up position. 83% of the adjustable headrests could have been raised to better protect the driver.
Hyge sled tests were run to determine biomechanical responses for the various conditions observed in normal driving. This included three headrest heights and three gaps behind the head. Neck extension from the Hybrid III dummy was normalized to the response for a high, close headrest, and injury risk was assumed to be proportional to neck extension.
The current driving situation has a relative injury risk of 3.4 in rearend crashes, compared to 1.0 for the favorable condition. If all adjustable headrests were placed in the up position, the relative risk would be lowered to 2.4, a 28.3% reduction in whiplash injury risk. Public education and vehicle design should address the importance of proper headrest placement for driving safety.