Motoring Insight Magazine Online

Car safety innovations have had little impact on reducing whiplash injuries

Published: 5 October 2014

ONE of world's most prominent orthopaedic surgeons believes car manufacturers have not done enough to reduce whiplash injuries, despite claims having fallen by 24,000 in the last year.

Sanjiv Jari, who has treated everyone from injured Premier League players to ordinary victims of whiplash, told Motortrades Insight there are no simple answers to the whiplash epidemic.

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"For the last few years, car manufacturers have been doing things to try and reduce the effect of accidents on the occupant," the Manchester-based consultant surgeon explained. "Ultimately, the way any injury occurs to an occupant is that the force transmitted from the car that's hitting a stationery vehicle then has to be transferred to the occupant. If there isn't any force to be transferred then the occupant won't have any injury.

"Manufacturers are already creating crumple zones within the car that try to absorb the force. They have a car skeleton which will distribute the force of a crash to the skeleton of the car rather than the occupants.

"Airbags always help. But with all of these adaptations that have occurred, I'm seriously not sure if they've actually had an effect on reducing whiplash and whiplash claims. They've certainly reduced serious injuries and the risk of death. A seatbelt potentially increases your risk of having a whiplash injury as it is restraining your body so it's not allowing the motion but then it was never designed to prevent whiplash. It was designed to save your life and nothing more."

But Deborah Evans, Chief Executive for the Association of Personal Injury lawyers (APIL), said: "Whiplash is not an epidemic, and the vast majority of people are honest, with a great many even playing down their symptoms. Whiplash injuries are real and they can be life-changing. Fraudulent claims waste money, bring the whole system into disrepute and must be eliminated. No-one wants to be in a car accident. No-one wants to have their life affected by pain, even in the short term."

According to The Whiplash Report 2012, an independent survey of 4,000 people by Canadean Consumer Research, the introduction of seatbelt legislation back in 1983 led to an increase in neck strains and soft tissue injuries but reduced head injuries significantly. It claims while more than a third of people with whiplash injuries recovered within a month, around one in five had symptoms for more than a year.

"We're reliant on the patient telling us about their injury," explained Mr Jari. "There's a lot of evidence to show there are derangements that occur within the muscle and the soft tissues of the neck but these areas are exposed to abnormal forces when involved in a road traffic accident.

"In terms of the clinical findings, it's really a question of pain and occasionally stiffness. I say occasionally because not even everyone who has whiplash has stiffness of the neck as it can be periodic. You can have good and bad days. They may happen to turn up for a report [for the insurers' evidence] on a day when they are feeling relatively good."

Ms Evans added: "Many insurers don't believe this medical evidence is important, and they make offers of compensation to victims before they have even seen any medical evidence about the injury."

72 per cent of those surveyed said they would trust a doctor to look after their best interests, 39 per cent a lawyer and just one in ten trusting their local MP. The government's Compensation Recovery Unit found there were 547,000 claims this year compared to 571,000 last year.
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