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Study Finds Fault With Many Cars' Head Restraints

By Jeremy W. Peters
The New York Times
A new study of automobile head restraints found that most do not do a good job of protecting passengers from whiplash in low-speed collisions. The study, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety examined 97 types of head restraints in cars sold in the United States, and concluded that three-fourths of the restraints provided either poor or marginal protection. Only eight restraints earned a rating of good: three in Volvo models, two in Saabs, one in the Jaguar S-Type, one in Volkswagen's New Beetle and one in the Subaru Impreza. General Motors, the world's largest automaker, fared worst in the study; all but four of its restraints earned the lowest rating. The study examined 21 different G.M. restraints in Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Saturns, Pontiacs and Saabs, and gave the 2004 and 2005 Chevrolet Malibu and 2005 Saab 9-5 models a rating of adequate. Only the Saab 9-2X and 9-3 received a rating of good, the highest. On the other end of the spectrum, Volvo, a subsidiary of Ford Motor, got the highest marks as the only automaker to receive a rating of good for all models tested. The study looked at three Volvo models in the 2003 through 2005 model years, the S40, S60 and S80. "It's obvious that some automakers are doing a better job than others of designing seats and head restraints to protect their customers' necks," said Adrian Lund, chief operating officer of the institute, which is financed by the insurance industry.