New testing ranks passenger protection in rear-end crashes

International insurers join to evaluate injury prevention: Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

VANCOUVER, Nov. 15 , 2004 – People who are purchasing a new vehicle now have another safety element to consider before they buy, as the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has announced the results of a new dynamic test that rates the seat/head restraint combinations in new cars sold in the Canadian market. The ratings indicate the range of occupant protection from whiplash injury in rear-end crashes at low to moderate speeds.

Of the 99 seat/head restraint combinations tested available in 84 car models sold in the Canadian market, only 8 were rated as “good,” 17 were “acceptable,” and 74 were “marginal” or “poor.”

The ratings are based on a two-step evaluation. First, the head restraint was rated according to its geometry — that is, its position in relation to the back of the occupant’s head. A head restraint that isn’t positioned high enough and close enough behind the occupant’s head cannot support the head in a rear impact. An acceptable head restraint needs to be no lower than 8 cm below the top of the occupant’s head, and no more than 9 cm behind the head. The 24 vehicle seats that did not meet this test were rated poor and did not receive further testing.

Seats with good or acceptable ratings were then equipped with a test dummy and subjected to a second test to simulate the forces in a stationary vehicle that is rear-ended by another vehicle travelling at a speed of 32 km/h. The rating in the second test was based on how well the seat protected the dummy’s neck from high force loads.

The top-ranked vehicle seats were in the Volvo S40, S60 and S80 models, Saab 9-2X and 9-3, Subaru Impreza, Jaguar S-Type, and Volkswagen Beetle with lumbar adjustable seats. The Toyota Corolla also performed well in the dynamic test, but did not receive a top ranking due to its geometry.

“More than half of all crash injuries involve the neck, and we know that vehicles with the best seat designs have up to 43 per cent lower rates of this type of injury,” said John Gane, ICBC’s Manager of Vehicle Safety and Research. “There’s no reason why all auto manufacturers can’t design seats with this level of protection, and consumers should look for this feature when they buy a new car.”

ICBC has been promoting better seat and head restraint designs since 1993. At that time, ICBC developed a device for measuring how well a head restraint fits an average-sized male occupant. This Head Restraint Measuring Device is now used for both ratings and design of head-restraint geometry around the world. “Almost all of the world’s automakers have purchased this tool from ICBC,” noted Gane.

For development of these new car ratings and the simulated crash testing, ICBC joined with other whiplash prevention experts to organise the International Insurance Whiplash Prevention Group (IIWPG). IIWPG members include the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the USA; Thatcham in the United Kingdom; Alllianz Technology Centre in Germany and the German Insurance Institute for Traffic Engineering; Folksam Insurance in Sweden; Insurance Australia Group; and CESVIMAP in Spain. These organizations will be announcing results of tests on cars in their own markets today.

Today’s announcement includes ratings for popular passenger cars only. Pickup trucks and SUV ratings will be announced at a later date.

“ICBC invests in injury prevention because it makes business sense,” said Derek Vettese, ICBC vice president of claims. “Fewer crashes and less severe injuries results in real savings for ICBC, and those savings can be passed on to our customers through the lowest rates possible.”

The overall ratings are available at