The makes and models of cars which are most often involved in cases of whiplash are to be exposed in new research aimed at cutting the number of personal injury claims – which last year cost insurance companies £500 million, writes Christopher McKevitt.
The results of the research could lead to higher insurance premiums for people driving cars which leave them vulnerable to whiplash injuries.
A six-month programme of trials is underway on every car on the British market and will continue well into next year at the insurance industry-funded research centre at Thatcham.
ABI deputy director general Tony Baker said that the research findings would enable individual insurers to compare the models of cars most at fault with their own accident claims experience. If the two tally then he said there "will be pressure to reflect that in the premiums".
Insurers estimate that the design of up to a third of models on the road actually contributes towards whiplash rather than mitigates against it.
Top of the list of offending vehicles are expected to be those where the headrests do not stay in place and where the car has relatively poor shock absorption when involved in a low-speed rear impact collision – the category of accident which generates most whiplash claims.
Whiplash claims arrive at insurance offices at a rate of around 250,000 a year and as more cars are packed on to Britain's roads that figure is set to increase. The problem for insurance companies is that the condition is almost impossible to disprove – leaving insurance companies open to fraudulent or exaggerated claims.
The average cost of settling a claim currently stands at around £2,000.
In Britain the current assumption is that around £8 in every £100 paid out by insurance companies goes to fraudsters.
Those behind the research hope it will provide pointers on potentially suspect claims if they come from occupants of cars where the seat design and bodywork ought to have offered protection.
"Cars which are stiff at the rear are more likely to pass the energy created by a crash on to the car occupants.
"A vehicle which is exceptionally stiff in the rear is incapable of absorbing energy in the structure of the car," said Thatcham director of research Ken Roberts. "No one else has done this in the world. The manufacturers are concerned they're going to have to do something and they're worried they're going to have to do something pretty quickly."
The ABI is to launch an awareness campaign next month under the slogan "Adjust your headrest, not your neck".