These results point in the same direction as studies presented by the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The average injury reduction
with factory-fitted whiplash-protection seats is topped by Volvo at 49 percent. Studies carried out by Swedish insurance institute Folksam have also shown
Whiplash injuries have been reported in all types of collision, but the greatest risk of injury stems from rear impacts.
The symptoms of whiplash injury are neck pains, stiffness, headache, dizziness, tingling in the arms and so on. Just how whiplash actually occurs has not yet been precisely established. What is likely is that damage to ligaments, muscles, discs, facet joints and the nerve system occurs during the neck’s three movement sequences – the initial S-shaped movement (retraction) between the head and upper spine, followed by the rearward motion (extension) of the head, and the final forward movement of the head (flexion).
Typically, whiplash symptoms disappear quickly, but more than one-quarter of those reporting injury are put on sick leave for periods lasting from a week or so to several months.
In Sweden, about 1,500 people a year suffer permanent injury. Some of these people experience such severe problems that they cannot return to work.
Public authorities and regulators seek solutions
The high rate of whiplash injuries results in considerable cost to society in the form of health care, rehabilitation, loss of manpower and workplace productivity. Public authorities and regulators are seeking solutions to remedy this problem.
Intensive work is under way to amend regulations in Europe to further address whiplash injuries in rear impacts. However, the introduction of legislative proposals requires sufficient crash research work to fully understand the effects of new regulations. It may take many years to implement any new decisions.
Work is therefore proceeding in parallel on the establishment of a rating system for the evaluation of in-car protection in rear impacts. Within one year, a rating system will be in place by the EuroNCAP pan-European safety organisation.
An insurance company task force made up of European and American partners, IIWPG,
is also working cooperatively to find solutions to the problem.
Automobile industry leads safety research and technical development
Throughout the history of the automobile, the Swedish car manufacturers’ seats have offered some of the best features for reducing the likelihood of neck injuries. Volvo and Saab were the first car makers to introduce head restraints in cars, back in the 1970s.
In 2000, insurance company Folksam presented a comparative study of the head restraints offered by various car manufacturers from the 1980s to the end of the 1990s. Volvo and Saab came out among the leaders. And it was the Swedish manufacturers who were responsible for the next technological breakthrough at the end of the 1990s.
Volvo’s development strategy
Volvo’s development of the neck protection system is guided by the principle that the entire spine and the head must be properly supported in a collision. For this reason, Volvo has not focused only on the development of a head restraint but
has instead worked on a combination of good head restraint design and a dynamic support function in the seat backrest.
Volvo’s Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS) consists of a good head restraint
(a robust, high restraint that sits close to the head) along with a well thought-out seat backrest that provides uniform support. This is combined with an energy-absorption system built into the articulated joint between the backrest and seat cushion. In a rear impact, the backrest moves rearward with the seat’s occupant, first in a parallel movement before tipping backward slightly. The impact on the occupant’s back is further reduced via the deformation elements fitted in the link between the backrest and seat cushion.
WHIPS was introduced in the Volvo S80 in 1998. As of autumn 1999 (model year 2000) all Volvo models have been fitted as standard with WHIPS in both front seats.
Occupant protection surveys confirm the benefits of WHIPS
In October 2002, the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) issued its findings from a survey in which car models with newly developed head restraints were compared with the previous model year’s versions. Clear improvements were noted in most cases. Volvo topped the average neck injury reduction rating, with a 49 per cent drop in neck injuries.
The results recently published by Volvo’s accident research commission point in the same direction. WHIPS reduces initial whiplash-related injuries by 33 per cent and long-term injuries (lasting one year or more) by 54 per cent. These findings have been statistically proven.
The greatest reduction has been noted for women – approximately 50 per cent for whiplash-related initial injuries and about 75 per cent for long-term injuries.
The unique Volvo safety database
The accident data that Volvo’s accident research commission systematically gathers is valuable not just for the company’s own development of safer cars – it also makes it possible to gauge the effectiveness of implemented safety equipment in a scientific manner.
Data from rear collisions involving Volvo cars is collected by Volvo’s accident research commission working together with insurance company Volvia. Details about the car, damage to the car, the passengers and their position inside the car are registered together with data about any personal injuries. After one year, information is collated about the initial neck injury (if any) and current injury status. The database currently holds 2870 case studies.
It includes 264 adult front-seat occupants who never had any previous history of neck problems, but whose car was hit from behind with such force that the WHIPS system was deployed or would have been deployed had the car been so equipped. Information about these persons is analysed, and passengers protected by WHIPS are compared with passengers in seats without WHIPS (model year 1999).
Women receive highest safety benefit from whiplash protection system (WHIPS)
The fact that WHIPS tends to show a higher protection rating for women is an interesting reason for continued investigation. It is widely known that women represent the largest risk group for whiplash injuries. Just why this is so is not known with any degree of certainty. What is likely, however, is that Volvo’s successful integration of the seat backrest and the head restraint into a single interacting protection structure has immense benefits in terms of personal safety, particularly for women in cars.