Headrests and Car Seats


So, it seems I’m the only one who likes to write, lol.  That’s OK.  Guess I’ve just got a lot of hot air to share :D.

There was a post on car-seat.org regarding headrests and car seats.  It’s a frequent problem that headrests stick forward and interfere with the installation of some forward-facing car seats.  These headrests are safe for people because they are closer to heads and reduce injury rates for whiplash and other neck injuries, but they push car seats forward making it so they don’t sit flush against the vehicle seat.  A common practice has been to take the headrest out, flip it around backwards, and reinsert the headrest into position.  Since the headrest is flat on the back, the car seat then sits flat against the vehicle seat.  It also allows the headrest to stay in the vehicle so that if the car seat or booster needs to be removed for an adult passenger, that person has head support.  Otherwise, best practice would be to just remove the headrest.

Sounds great, right?  The perfect solution.  Maybe not.  Most headrests have notches on one side only to allow the headrest to be adjusted and to keep it in place during a crash.  If the headrest is flipped around, the notches no longer line up and the headrest is held in place by friction only.  Will it hold in a crash?  Perhaps.  In a rollover?  Who knows?  Should I be concerned about a headrest held so strongly by friction that it barely moves in a rollover when there are backpacks, groceries, baseball bats/gloves, and cell phones and assorted cell phone accessories flying around as well?  I don’t know.  I guess I pick my evils.

Let’s have a conversation about crash forces.  The basic force formula is weight x speed = force.  So, if the headrest weighs 1.5 lbs. and I’m in a 35 mph crash, which is a pretty average residential speed where I live, that headrest would hit me with a force of 52.5 lbs.  That would hurt a bit, especially if the posts came at me first ;).  What’s my point?  Hit yourself with a 52 lb. weight and you’ll see what my point is.  You’ll end up with a hole in your skull.

So, how should we counsel parents/caregivers now?  Should we continue to tell them to flip the headrests backwards so that the car seats fit better?  Should we tell them to take the headrests out altogether and possibly have the parents forget to put them back in the vehicle for an adult passenger?  Many SUVs and vans simply don’t have storage space for headrests if they’re removed and let’s face it, not everyone is as concerned with headrest safety as those of us in our field are (just drive around and look at how many people are at risk for whiplash because their headrests are adjusted too low).  It’s ultimately up to the parents and caregivers what they do with their headrests, but I think we need to look into this more since it is becoming a major installation problem.


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