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Car safety restraints: Getting your head in the game

Today's cars contain a lot of built-in safety features that weren't available just a decade ago. Despite ongoing improvements, car safety experts have yet to design a vehicle that prevents the most common and most reported car accident injury – whiplash.

The forward and back motion forces ligaments and nerves in the neck to extend beyond normal limits. Even a low-speed Bergen County rear-end collision can cause serious pain. The chances of becoming a whiplash victim are greater for occupants of pre-2009 car models than newer vehicles, due to changes in federal car safety standards.

Upgraded safety rules for car head restraints rolled out starting in 2005. The change came about the same time the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a report stating nearly 50 percent of head restraints tested in rear-end collisions performed poorly. By 2014, all tested models passed IIHS tests.

Head restraints work well when adjusted properly, a task drivers often ignore. Many drivers may assume occupants are protected simply because head restraints are in the car. The incorrect height or tilt setting diminishes the effectiveness of a head restraint in a crash.

Back-seat passengers also can have less head protection than front-seat occupants. Rear seats in many cars have fixed head restraints and no restraint for the center rear seat. Adjustable rear head restraints, including folding and retractable restraints, are available in some car models but these features aren't mandatory.

The average time between rear-end collisions in the U.S. -- and possible whiplash injuries -- is 17 seconds. The IIHS reported the most likely victims are tall people, particularly women.

You may reduce chances of getting hurt in a car accident by following this advice, but you have no control over the irresponsible actions of other drivers. Injuries like whiplash can cause chronic pain, costly medical bills and wage losses. Damages may be recovered through personal injury claims.

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