But IIHS spokesman Russ Rader says that his group is also playing a part in getting these seat designs rolled out before the law requires it. "Part of what's driving it is that manufacturers have to earn 'good' ratings in the rear test in order to get the Top Safety Pick designation," says Russ Rader, spokesman for the IIHS, adding that automakers are using it as a competitive advantage.
The IIHS rear crash protection ratings are based on two categories of testing: first, on geometric measurements regarding how close the head restraint is to an average man's head; and secondly, on dynamic ratings that test the seat and head restraints on a sled, simulating a velocity change of 10 mph, which is like being in a stationary vehicle struck at 20 mph.
Over the next year, we'll also start seeing some changes to back seats, too. Phasing in beginning in September 2010—and required by September 2011—is a new federal requirement that rear-seat head restraints be mounted as high as 29.5 inches from the occupant's hip (the same height as for front-seat restraints)
Volvo S80 Anti-WhiplashSeatEnlarge Photo
The new seats might cost slightly more in some cases—especially the ones with active restraints that move upward and forward in an impact for better support—but it's nothing compared to the pain in the neck the injuries have proven to insurance companies and motorists. Neck injury is the most common injury reported under the two most common types of auto-injury insurance, according to Rader, and the annual cost amounts to $9 billion—one quarter of all accident-related injury claims.
Even considering the new seat design in the Sebring and Avenger, these two models still scored an 8 out of 10 for Safety in TheCarConnection.com's Meta Review because of imperfect (four out of five) scores in a couple of federal ratings and because electronic stability control remains an option—even for top-of-the-line models. For more information on how safety measures up from model to model, within their respective classes, be sure to read the Safety tab of our full reviews and check out our expert editors' Bottom Line takes for any vehicle you're considering.