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Wiping out whiplash with good seat design

Whiplash is a painful injury that’s common in rear-end collisions.

Whiplash is a painful injury that’s common in rear-end collisions.

It occurs when the body jerks forward and the head snaps back and forth, injuring the neck, and can range from mild discomfort to long-term pain.

Many automakers, including Ford, have introduced improved head restraints and seat designs that keep the head and spine aligned during a collision, helping to prevent the snapping motion that can cause whiplash.

“The seat is a total system,” says Dan Ferretti, Ford’s global technical leader for seat engineering.

“If you have good seat design using the latest technology, you can manage that energy of the seat and keep good alignment between the neck, the spine and the lower torso.”

There are different types of head restraint systems.

Active systems push the head restraints forward in a crash to cradle the head, using either a mechanical release that’s triggered when the occupant is pushed into the seat by the crash force, or a pyrotechnic device similar to that used to deploy airbags.

Passive systems, which Ford uses on its entire line of vehicles in North America, involve a seat and head restraint design that manages the energy during a collision.

It’s equally effective as an active system, Ferretti says, but doesn’t require the same attention when the vehicle is being repaired.

“A pyrotechnic usually has to be replaced (after a collision), and many of the mechanical-based systems also need to be replaced and reset,” Ferretti says.

“A passive system does not need any kind of typical replacement. ‘Simpler is better’ is our approach to it.”

Ford has introduced a new four-way head restraint on its Explorer which, in addition to moving up and down, can also be positioned forward and backwards using a manually-operated ratcheting system, which allows the occupant to select from 12 positions.

The new restraints offer occupants the ability to find a comfortable driving position while still protecting them in a crash.

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