17 November 2004

--- Buying A Car? Read This First

In the US, neck injuries cost at least $7 billion per year in insurance claims. In cash-strapped Philippines, where saving money and insurance protection are still trying to make a niche in the market, I have no idea how much neck injuries cost us annually.

But neck injuries and whiplash are frequent here. Everyday, we have numerous vehicular accidents, and it is safe to assume that a good fraction of the victims have suffered from neck injuries and whiplash. Land Transportation Office (LTO) statistics showed that there were 16,418 traffic accidents reported last year, and 8,000 of these were fatal. In the recent PNR train accident, I'm sure there were lots of injured passengers that needed a neck brace.

Whiplash is the term used to describe signs and symptoms that happen after damage to the neck, because of sudden extension and flexion movements caused when your vehicle bumps on something.

The American Academy of Surgeons (AAOS) has an excellent description on how whiplash takes place:

Imagine yourself driving when a car behind you rear-ends your vehicle. The impact pushes your car forward. It takes about 100 milliseconds for your body to catch up to the forward movement. Your shoulders travel forward until they are under your head, and your neck extends forward as your head tilts slightly down toward your steering wheel. You step on the brakes, bringing the car to an abrupt halt. The sudden stop throws your head and neck backward, and they bounce against the headrest.

In a matter of seconds, you've experienced the classic mechanism of injury for whiplash.

[AAOS Online]

Two days ago, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a list of "safe vehicles" after it examined a wide range of late-model cars from various makers, as it paid careful attention to seat/head restraint combinations, which can protect from whiplash injury from rear end crashes.

If you're buying a new vehicle, begin considering and asking your car sales agent about strategic seat/head restraint geometries which are important in helping prevent whiplash. It keeps the head and torso aligned, reducing the risk of the head snapping forward and then jerking back in a rear-impact accident.

According to a partial report by WebMD, here are some of the cars that passed the test:

Only eight of the 73 seat/head restraints earned an overall "good" rating on crash testing, 16 gained an acceptable score, and 19 earned ratings that were marginal. In alphabetical order, those cars which scored a "good" rating were:

  • Jaguar S-Type: 2005 models, all seats

  • Saab 9-2X: 2005 models, all seats made after September 2004, active head restraints

  • Saab 9-3: 2005 models, all seats, active head restraints

  • Subaru Impreza: 2005 models, all seats made after September 2004, active head restraints

  • Volkswagen New Beetle: 2004-05 models, seats with adjustable lumbar, active head restraints

  • Volvo S40: 2004-05 models, all seats made after February 2004

  • Volvo S60: 2003-05 models, all seats

  • Volvo S80: 2003-05 models, all seats
However, 30 seat/head restraint combinations were rated "poor" in the crash tests, and 24 seat/head restraint combinations flunked the geometry test, disqualifying them from the crash test and automatically earning a "poor" rating.

[WebMD, Nov 16 2004]

If you cannot find the car model you like from the list above, you can try this complete list from USA Today.

The full IIHS report on this test can be read here.

Remember, it's a jungle out there. Be careful always!

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