2010 Chrysler Sebring sedanEnlarge Photo
If you consider safety one of the top priorities in your next new-car purchase—as you should—and are carefully combing through features and occupant protection ratings, you're in for a pleasant surprise: There are a lot more models designated Top Safety Picks this year from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Why? Although some models have been redesigned with stronger, more crash-resistant structures, improved side protection, and other features, along with electronic stability control (a requisite for the award), in a number of other models it was as simple as redesigning the seats.
The 2010 Chrysler Sebring and 2010 Dodge Avenger sedans, for instance, get a new seat design that raises these vehicles' overall rear protection rating to 'good,' from 'acceptable.' With the new seats, neck shear forces and neck tension in a rear impact are just a fraction of what they were with the old design. The simple solution: new seats that, most significantly place the headrest higher and closer to the typical occupant's head.
Chrysler isn't the only one. For 2009 and 2010, a number of automakers have been phasing in new seat designs. From the 2008 to the 2009 model, for instance, the Toyota Corolla went from an overall 'poor' score in the rear test to a 'good' result, with a force rating that went from 'high' to 'low'—indicating a much lower chance of whiplash or related neck or back injuries.
According to the IIHS, the overall rate of injuries is 13 percent lower for vehicles with 'good' rear ratings versus those with 'poor' ones, so looking back, this might be a pivotal period showing a significant drop in insurance claims, injuries, and perhaps deaths.
New federal head restraint rules, set back in 2004 but not requiring total compliance until next September, essentially require taller head restraints that are closer to the back of the occupant's head. Under the new rules, the space between the back of an occupant's head and the head restraint must be 2.2 inches or less.