New Vehicle Head Restraints are Uncomfortable

I have been receiving feedback from some workers based in the field that the headrests in their fleet trucks are pushing their head too far forward.  It seems the new standard for passive head restraints is to reduce the gap between the driver’s head and the headrest.  With the help of one of our client contacts, we have discovered that vehicle manufacturers can increase their crash test ratings if they reduce the gap between the driver’s head and the head restraint.  Unfortunately, this has resulted in a headrest position that actually pushes a driver’s head forward when trying to sit into the seat properly (with shoulder blades against the seat).  It appears that vehicle manufacturers have determined that most of us slouch so they need to have the headrest come forward to meet us.  This is unfortunate.  For any of us trying to maintain good posture while driving, we must now accommodate the headrest position by;

  1. Leaning forward,
  2. Tilting the seat backrest back far enough so the headrest is out of the way, or
  3. Altering the headrest in some way.  (I have heard reports of putting the headrest on backwards or removing the headrest altogether!  Obviously this is not recommended.)

Of course, there is a better way.  It just costs more money.  Some vehicle manufacturers have been using active head restraints for years that would meet the safety standards but not encroach on neutral upper back and neck posture.  The headrest design connects the headrest to a mechanism in the upper part of the seat.  Whenever there is a quick acceleration of the vehicle that forces the driver backwards into the seat, the headrest pivots forward to meet the driver’s head to prevent it from ‘whipping’ backwards.  Simple.  Now if only we could get all vehicle manufacturers to incorporate this proven system so we can avoid the unintended slow hurt pain syndromes that come with holding our head in a non-neutral position!

About Rob Fontaine

Rob works with a wide range of clients providing ergonomic evaluations, safe movement coaching as well as advice on integrating ergonomics into successful safety processes.

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3 Responses to “New Vehicle Head Restraints are Uncomfortable”

  1. John Hagopian February 7, 2012 9:18 pm #

    Rob, the solution is not active head restraints. By federal regulation, FMVSS 202, even active restraints must have a minimum setback from the head of 2.5 inches, exactly the same as for passive restraints. This is because the NHTSA would not be able to measure the setback of the active restraint while in its dynamic deployed state and they would not be able to establish a standard for them.

    Also, they forbade any fore-or-aft adjustment because they believed the American public would be, essentially, too stupid to adjust them properly.

    All this discomfort for the stated goal of achieving a theoretical reduction of whiplash injuries by 5%!

    • Rob Fontaine February 7, 2012 9:24 pm #

      Thanks John for supplying some clarification on my post about headrests in newer vehicles. I wonder what consumers can do to maintain neutral upper back and neck posture while still using the headrests as intended?

  2. Dave Coates August 17, 2012 2:27 pm #

    I was just contacted to review the seats in a brand new Infinity EX35. This is a very nice luxury vehicle with all leather 10 way adjustable seats. The owner had recently purchased the vehicle and he was experiencing mid-back discomfort after 20 minutes of driving. He was feeling that his head was being forced too far forward and his shoulder blades were forced to round forward as well. Both the owner and myself have good posture. I would not last 5 minutes driving this vehicle. The headrest pushed my head at least two inches too far forward and you have to slouch your shoulders forward to fit the contour of the upper back region of the seat.

    It seems that bad slouchy posture is so common now that car manufacturers assume everyone slouches when they drive? This owner is now being penalized for having good posture by having to visit an upholstery shop to get foam shaved out of his headrest and get a more neutral spine contour in his backrest. The slouchers are taking over!

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