Adjust whiplash protector

Improper headrest adjustment is one of many standard allegations ICBC makes against victims of negligent driving.

The allegation is almost always made in a formal document called a Response to Civil Claim.

A recent example: “The Plaintiff … failed to properly adjust the headrest devices installed in the motor vehicle in which the Plaintiff was riding.”

It’s almost comical when our lawyers ask offending drivers about the allegation during an Examination for Discovery. How could they have noticed headrest positioning if their level of awareness was so poor they crashed into the back of the victim’s vehicle?

ICBC lawyers usually try to prove the allegation through the injured victim. Unless it is your diligent practice to always adjust the headrest, how could you say for sure what your headrest positioning was two or more years after a crash?

Why does it matter?

The law places a legal duty on us to reasonably look out for our own safety. If we fail to, and our injuries would likely have been reduced had we done so, our entitlement to fair compensation for those injuries can be reduced.

It’s called “contributory negligence.”

The same goes for failing to wear your seatbelt.

But, you may ask, isn’t headrest adjustment different from wearing a seatbelt? There is no law requiring headrest adjustment.

There is also no law prohibiting texting and walking, but if you trip over a sidewalk hazard, an injury claim will be met with an allegation of contributory negligence.

Do you diligently ensure that your headrest is properly adjusted? Do you even know what it means to properly adjust your headrest?

I strongly suspect that you don’t.

My suspicion comes from the fact that almost nobody I observe riding as a passenger in my vehicle pays any attention to headrest positioning. Children and adults alike.

People don’t understand the importance of a headrest. Perhaps it’s because of the name: “headrest.”

They didn’t become mandatory safety mechanisms in vehicles sold in the United States in 1969 (later, I assume, in Canada) because we need a place to rest our heads. What a ridiculous name!

How about calling them “whiplash protectors.”

They became mandatory because of what happens to the head and neck during a collision, particularly a rear-ender.

Your stopped vehicle is abruptly propelled forward. Without a “whiplash protector,” your entire body except your head is pushed violently forward by the seat. Your rag-doll head stays put, but, in effect, flips back over the top of the seat, harmfully extending your neck.

See for yourself. Here is a link to a YouTube video that shows in slow motion what happens in a rear-end collision. Consider what would happen if the “whiplash protector” was not in place.

So what does “properly adjusted” mean?

Here is a link to ICBC’s advice on the matter. Quoting from ICBC:

  • Make sure the top of the head restraint is at least level with the top of your head; and
  • Position the head restraint so it's as close to the back of your head as possible. You may need to adjust the back of the seat.

I was prompted to write about this topic when going truck shopping this past weekend. I’m not a “truck guy,” whatever that might mean, but my wife has become a “travel trailer girl,” so what choice did I have?

I might be the only guy, ever, who has made a truck purchase decision based on headrests; not on brands that truck companies spend so much money advertising.

All three back seats in the one I chose have headrests, which was more than could be said for at least one competing brand.

I don’t move my vehicle until everyone has properly adjusted their “whiplash protectors.”

Please do the same favour for your passengers. Remember to adjust yours when riding in or driving an unfamiliar vehicle.


Comments are pre-moderated to ensure they meet our guidelines. Approval times will vary. Keep it civil, and stay on topic. If you see an inappropriate comment, please use the ‘flag’ feature. Comments are the opinions of the comment writer, not of Castanet. Comments remain open for one day after a story is published and are closed on weekends. Visit Castanet’s Forums to start or join a discussion about this story.

More Achieving Justice articles

About the Author

Paul Hergott began practicing law in 1995, in a general litigation practice. Of the various areas of litigation, he became most drawn to, and passionate about, pursuing fair compensation for injured victims. This gradually became his exclusive area of practice.

In 2007, Paul opened Hergott Law, a boutique personal injury law firm in the Central Interior, serving personal injury clients from all over British Columbia. Paul’s practice is restricted to acting only for the injured victim, never for ICBC or for other insurance companies.

Paul became a weekly newspaper columnist in January of 2007, when his first column entitled “It’s not about screwing the Insurance Company” was published. 

Please feel free to email or call Paul (1.855.437.4688) with legal issues you might like him to write about in his column, or to offer your feedback about something he has written.

Email:   [email protected]
Firm website:  www.hlaw.ca
Achieving Justice Legal Blog:  http://www.hlaw.ca/category/all-columns/
One Crash is Too Many Road Safety Campaign: www.onecrashistoomany.com
Google Plus:  https://plus.google.com/+HlawCanada/posts
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/personalinjurylawfirm
Twitter:   twitter.com/Hergott_Law

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories