Poor head restraints put two thirds at increased risk of whiplash and may add £1bn plus to claims costs(1) - AXA Car Insurance

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AXA, one of the UK’s largest motor insurers, estimates hundreds of thousands of whiplash claims could be prevented each year with better head restraints and seats in UK cars.

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Only 39% of people ever adjust their head restraint while 26% of people say they don’t even know how to adjust it.

The company carried out research(2), in conjunction with leading motor research organisation Thatcham, into the cars on the UK’s roads and estimates that only 34% have head restraints and seats that would be categorised as “good” when it comes to reducing the risk of the driver being the victim of whiplash injuries.

In the UK, over 1500 claims for whiplash are made per day – 570,000 per year - costing the car insurance industry £2bn per year in payouts(3).     If 65%(4) of these could be avoided through better head restraints and seats this could mean a reduction of 370,500 claims costing around £1.3bn.

And consumers are increasing the risk for themselves through their own negligence. Only 39% of people ever adjust their head restraint while 26% of people say they don’t even know how to adjust it(5). 23% of drivers say that they have been shown how their head restraint should be set – 13% when they bought their car.

Robin Reames, chief claims officer at AXA motor insurance says: “The insurance industry pays out billions each year in whiplash claims and as an organisation we have been working hard to bring down these costs including a successful campaign last year to ban referral fees.

“However, consumer awareness of prevention is another key step in bringing down the cost. It seems the majority of people are unaware of how they can help themselves and even if they are aware they do little about it.

“It is vital the insurance industry and motor industry work together to cut down the risk and ultimately the cost that poor equipment and ignorance bring to the consumer.”

Matthew Avery, Head of Research at Thatcham added: “We carried out a similar study a few years ago and the statistics have improved a bit since then. But there is still a long way to go and we are continually working with the motor industry to make the changes that will save thousands of people suffering unnecessary injury.”

Tips on reducing your whiplash risk:

  •     make sure the head restraint is set at the right height; to be effective, a head restraint must be as close to the back of the head as possible (touching is best) and the top of the restraint should be as high as the top of the head. Remember it is a head restraint, not a headrest
  •     if there is a very old or ‘spongy’ restraint, look at replacing it or buying an add on pad
  •     bring the seat to an upright position that will set the head restraint just behind the head
  •     sometimes hats/hair accessories can make a head restraint feel uncomfortable. But for safety the headwear should be removed rather than the head restraint pushed back
  •     thinking of buying a new car, check out the Thatcham rating for the different models

(1)For the purposes of these calculations, it is assumed that all claims paid out are genuine injuries and not fraudulent
(2)A ‘car park’ of over 400 cars were analysed by Thatcham applying their test that measures the size of the head restraint and how close it would be to a typical driver. It also rates the dynamic performance of the seat during the crash test and combines these two assessments into one final, overall rating
(3)Source: ABI
(4)Thatcham calculations/research show the difference in injury rates between different categories of head restraint/seat
(5)Consumer research carried out by Onepoll among 2000 UK adults in December 2011
AXA is one of the largest general insurers in the UK and underwrites a broad range of products for individuals and businesses. AXA Direct Insurance offers car, home and travel insurance through its website http://www.axainsurance.com and is designed to make buying insurance fast, secure, convenient and easy-to-use.
AXA Group is a worldwide leader in insurance and asset management, with 216,000 employees serving 93 million clients. In 2010, IFRS revenues amounted to Euro 91 billion and IFRS underlying earnings to Euro 3.9 billion. AXA had Euro 1,104 billion in assets under management as of December 31, 2010.

The Group is included in the main international SRI indexes, such as Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and FTSE4GOOD.

Our previous company performance is not a guide to how we may perform in the future.
Any opinions expressed in this media communication are made as at the date of this publication but are subject to change without notice.

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Helene Barnes
AXA Insurance press office
020 7400 1907
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