WASHINGTON -- Seat and head restraints in most new sport utilities and all pickups evaluated fell short of providing good protection against whiplash in rear-end collisions, an influential auto safety group said on Sunday.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an association backed by insurance companies, found only six seat and head restraint combinations in 44 SUV models earned good ratings for whiplash protection. None of the restraint systems in 15 pickup models posted good marks.
"Manufacturer advertising often emphasizes the rugged image of SUVs and pickups. However, the institute's evaluations show seats and head restraints in many models wouldn't do a good job of protecting most people in a typical rear impact in everyday commuter traffic," said Adrian Lund, the group's president.
Seats in only six vehicles -- all SUVs -- earned the highest rating in the IIHS analysis, including the Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR3, Subaru Forester, and Volvo XC90.
Seats and head restraints in big SUV sellers like the Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner and Chevrolet TrailBlazer rated poor, as did the Chevy Silverado pickup and some seats in the Ford F-150 and Dodge Dakota pickups.
Neck injuries are the most-common serious injuries reported in U.S. car crashes, accounting for 2 million insurance claims totaling at least $8.5 billion annually, the insurance group said.
The group evaluated the design of 58 seat and head restraint systems. Twelve of them had marginal or poor designs and were not included in institute crash tests, which for the first time used a dummy that measures forces on the neck.
Seats and restraints that could not be positioned to protect taller occupants automatically received a poor rating. Advanced designs did not necessarily mean better protection.
Although four of five restraint systems rated poor or marginal for whiplash protection, Lund said automakers are working on safer designs.
The goal of safety experts is to keep the head and torso moving together during a rear-end crash. The restraint should be positioned close to the back of the head for maximum support at impact. Seats must be strong enough to prevent the restraint from moving backward in a crash but forgiving enough to allow an occupant to sink into it, allowing the head to move closer to the restraint.
"You're more likely to need the protection of a good head restraint in a collision than the other safety devices in your vehicle because rear-end crashes are so common," Lund said.