Why are headrests important in vehicles?

Close-up on a brown leather vehicular headrest.

Vehicular Head Restraints Purpose and Comfort

You’ve likely noticed that car seats are almost always outfitted with an (often removable) head rest at the top. Initially, this may seem a welcome surface to rest your head against for a nap. However, many vehicular inhabitants find the headrests inside to be strangely uncomfortable.

Why are headrests in cars so perpetually unpleasant? Are automakers completely oblivious as to how to design a comfortable spot to lay one’s cranium? Or is comfort perhaps not the purpose of these gizmos at all? Why do vehicles include headrests?

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The primary function of headrests in vehicles is safety: they’re made to reduce whiplash, an unpleasant side effect of the rearward movement of the head and neck that occurs during a rear impact. A properly placed head restraint has been shown to lower the chances of neck injury by up to 43% during a rear-end collision.


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Because of the safety importance of headrests in vehicles, the feature has been mandatory in some countries since the late 1960s. There are stringent regulations on how headrests should be formatted in the interest of safety. This is likely why drivers and passengers tend to not find them all that comfortable.

Despite their importance, headrests have been shown to only reduce injury about 5% to 10% of the time. This has been blamed on the fact that many users do not know how to properly position the headrest, a step that’s necessary for the feature to be effective.

How do I position a headrest correctly in my car?

The correct position for a headrest is to keep it at least as high as the head’s center of gravity, which is located about 3.5-inches below the top of the head. In addition, the distance behind the head to the headrest should be as small as possible; if there is a distance of more than four inches, there may be increased, rather than decreased, symptoms of neck injury.

Posted in FAQs, Safety