Research Papers

Whiplash Prevention Campaign Initiative: Further Development and Implementation of an Observational Study Protocol for Assessing Proper Head Restraint Use

Filename FINAL-PAPER-39.docx
Filesize 805 KB
Version 1
Date added June 10, 2012
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Category 2012 CMRSC XXII Banff
Tags Session 4C
Author/Auteur Douglas P. Romilly, Harry Luk, Michael Chien, Kimmy Poon, Marc White, Ediriweera Desapriya


Purpose: Whiplash injury, a predominantly occurring injury type during a rear-end impact, constitutes a major social and economic cost to society of approximately $2 billion/year in Canada alone, which includes pain and suffering, health care, loss of productivity, insurance and litigation costs. A major factor in reducing whiplash injury is the proper positioning of the head restraint relative to the seated occupant's head at the time of the collision. In 2002, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) conducted an observational study of proper head restraint use that found that, on average, 86% of Canadian vehicle drivers had their head restraints positioned "poorly" such that they would not provide adequate protection during a rear-end impact.

Methods: This "lack of proper positioning of head restraints" by Canadian vehicle users and the resulting consequences to society initiated an AUTO21 NCE sponsored project to reduce whiplash injury from rear-end collisions. Initiatives flowing from this research project included: (a) the development of improved (and less subjective) observational study methods to assess the current state of proper head restraint use based on the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) rating system, (b) the creation of social marketing strategies to improve vehicle safety awareness and improve public knowledge related to head restraint positioning and vehicle safety systems, (c) the development of a web-portal to provide improved access to relevant safety-related vehicle information to potential purchasers of used and new vehicles, and (d) the development of a range of new whiplash mitigation system (WMS) technologies for incorporation into future vehicles. This paper is focused on describing the development and implementation of the improved protocols and customized tools employed in the newly developed observational study methods for assessing head restraint use in passenger vehicles on public roadways, i.e. building on previous initial work reported at CMRSC XXI.

Results: The observational study methodology (following validation) was implemented at a range of sites near intersections throughout the Greater Vancouver region producing a large dataset of head restraint position images. Collected images of passenger vehicles and occupants were computer-analyzed using custom-developed software to provide quantified assessment of the head restraint position based on IIHS ratings (i.e. Good, Acceptable, Marginal, Poor). The results indicate that approximately half of drivers have their head restraint positioned properly (IIHS rating: Good) and two-thirds had their head restraint adequately positioned (IIHS: Adequate or Good). These results provide a more accurate estimate of the current rate of proper head restraint use in this region. The results are further broken down by both region, vehicle type and occupant position (driver/passenger) to better understand trends in the results and identify areas needing additional attention.

Conclusions: There has been a substantial increase in the rate of proper head restraint use since the IBC study of 2002. While this change represents a significant improvement over the IBC results, there is still a lot of work to be done before we obtain desired usage rates equivalent to that of seat belts - an equally important safety device for reducing injury in frontal impacts.

Douglas P. Romilly, Harry Luk, Michael Chien, Kimmy Poon, Marc White, Ediriweera Desapriya