Whiplash - The Role of Headrests

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Sherrie Paterson,
4 days ago

It is sometimes said that if your car has a headrest then you cannot suffer a whiplash injury.

While there is some truth in the statement that a correctly positioned headrest can reduce the possibility or severity of a whiplash injury, you need only ask the hundreds of thousands of motorists who, each year, suffer neck injuries who, despite having positioned their headrest in accordance with safety instructions, discover that is by no means a guarantee of staying injury-free.

A headrest is effective in preventing the neck from hyper-extending (moving to its extreme backwards position) but has no capability to stop the neck from hyperflexing (moving to its extreme forward position). This latter motion alone can cause neck injuries and commonly does.

The correct headrest position

Although it won't eliminate the risk of whiplash, adjusting your headrest in the right way can lessen the extent of injury, so whenever you get into a vehicle, whether as a driver or passenger, you should make sure the headrest is in the correct position.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) head restraints should be positioned in the following way:

  • Ensure that the top of the head restraint is as high as the top of your head
  • Position the head restraint as close to the rear of your head as possible (the angle of the seat should be more or less upright to allow this to easily happen). 


By reducing the distance between the back of the head and the head restraint (first example), the neck is protected from bending back in an impact. This also minimises the time it takes for the head to come into contact with the restraint. The head is supported for longer during an incident.

In the second example above, the space between head and headrest means that the head will move further back in a collision, increasing the chances of the occupant sustaining a severe whiplash injury.


The top of the head restraint must be aligned with the top of the person's head, (first example above) offering full support and minimising the risk of a severe whiplash injury. 

In the second example above, the head is not in alignment with the headrest, and will not be fully supported in the event of an accident. The chances of an injury are increased.

ROSPA also notes the importance of having a locking headrest – in other words, one that won't move during impact. If the headrest is going to move as your head is thrown back, this is not going to offer very effective protection against a whiplash injury.

Medical advice

It is possible to be involved in a road traffic accident, including a rear-end shunt, without suffering any injury at all. Simply because you are involved in a car crash does not mean that you will definitely suffer injury; some people are lucky and walk away from a collision without any lasting pain or discomfort.

You should, however, get yourself looked over by a medical professional following any car accident and remember that the symptoms are not always immediately apparent.

Thompsons's Whiplash Information Centre

Whether you are looking for medical information, a point of contact for advice regarding your possible entitlement to whiplash injury compensation, or a detailed breakdown of settlement amounts, visit Thompsons' Whiplash Information Centre for more information. Alternatively, call our personal injury lawyers today on 0800 0891331 and we can investigate matters for you and advise you on your first step towards receiving compensation.

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