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A rear end crash occurs every 17 seconds in the U.S. Whiplash is often the result and over 2 million personal in injury claims are filed each year; 200,000 of those are serious enough to cause long-term medical problems. But what exactly is whiplash? What can we do about it and how safe are our cars?

Whiplash is defined when the soft tissues of the neck are injured by a sudden jerking or “whipping” of the head. This sudden motion strains the muscles and ligaments of the neck beyond their normal range of motion. Even though you may be wearing a seatbelt, the belt will keep your body from moving forward but the head may snap forward, then backward, causing pain and sometimes serious long term pain. baby%20headrest.jpg

In addition to neck pain, other symptoms may include neck stiffness, injuries to the muscles and ligaments headache, dizziness, or shoulder or back pain. Additionally, some people experience cognitive, somatic, or psychological conditions such as memory loss, concentration impairment, sleep disturbances, and depression.

In 2005, the federal government upgraded its head restraints rule which will become mandatory with 2009 vehicles built before September 1, 2008. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Rule will require head restraints to reach a minimum height of 29.5 inches upward from an occupant’s hip and must be 2.2 inches behind the person’s head.

Even though new head restraint laws will hopefully diminish whiplash-type injuries, an insurance survey revealed that 40% of drivers never adjusted their head restraint devices and 57% never readjusted them after someone drove their automobile. Only 14% of drivers actually knew the correct position that they should be in.

The main point to remember is that the top of the head restraint should reach at least as high as the top of your ear and be set back no more than 3 inches from your head. Of course there will always be differences in vehicle size, people’s posture and height, so these are only considered general guidelines.

Safety conscious car makers, like BMW have created crash-activated headrests, which actually will move to protect the occupant’s head in the event of a collision. Currently, this newer technology is only available in the BMW 6 series, 5 series, X5 and X3. Look for further safety features as automakers scramble to comply with new regulations.

So what do you do if you don’t have a new BMW? Consumer Report, issue August 2007, has just come out with some tips to avoid whiplash and some “best and worst” car ratings for rear crash protection.

Always buy a car with the best possible crash rating. Check with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for its rear seat head restraint ratings.

Adjust your head restraint. Always seat upright with good posture and if you see a crash coming, lean back so that your head is touching the head restraint and look straight ahead. This will minimize your chances for whiplash injury.

If you experience whiplash or any other type of injury, contact a professional personal injury attorney for an evaluation of your situation. You can always contact us at 1 888.752.7474 for a free discussion of your claim and injury.

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