Page last updated at 00:12 GMT, Saturday, 15 November 2008

Warning over whiplash 'epidemic'

Whiplash causes soft tissue injury

The number of claims for whiplash injuries following road accidents is soaring, say British insurance firms.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says that its members receive almost 1,200 claims of this type every day, worth 2bn a year.

The injuries themselves cost the NHS an estimated 8m a year, it says.

The AA said that drivers could reduce the risk of whiplash injuries by adjusting the head restraints in their cars to the right height.

Drivers can avoid inflicting whiplash on themselves and others by keeping a safe distance - at least two seconds - from the vehicle ahead
Edmund King

Whiplash happens when soft tissues in the neck are damaged by sudden movement, and are often linked to road accidents in which the patient's car has been hit from behind.

While many cases involve relatively mild pain and soreness for a few days afterwards, in a small number of cases, it can lead to permanent disability.

The ABI's report on the injury names the UK as the "whiplash capital" of Europe, accounting for three quarters of personal injury claims related to motor accidents.

In 2007, more than 430,000 people claimed for whiplash, a figure which had risen by a quarter over the preceding five year period.

Stephen Haddrill, the director general of the ABI, said that it was now an "epidemic" which produced "unacceptable costs" for the state, individuals, and businesses.

"Insurers want to reduce whiplash, provide fast care and compensation and tackle fraudulent claims.

"We call on the Government, road safety groups, the medical and legal professions and other stakeholders to work with us on a campaign to reduce this problem."

Too close for comfort

One of the biggest causes highlighted by the ABI was "tailgating" - driving too close to the car in front, and it called for the government's proposed new framework for learner drivers to emphasise safe following distances.

In addition, it wants car retailers to show buyers how to adjust the head restraint on their new vehicle.

The AA said that whiplash claims were putting increasing pressure on insurance premiums.

It said the cost amounted to 66 for every UK car insurance policy - twice the cost for claims for accidents involving uninsured drivers.

Edmund King, its president, said that most drivers who suffered a whiplash injury could have prevented it themselves, even if they were at no fault in the accident.

"Drivers and passengers can help prevent themselves becoming victims of whiplash by adjusting head restraints before they drive off.

"The top of the head restraint should be level with the top of the driver's head, while the back of the head should be as close as possible to, and ideally touching, the restraint.

"Drivers can avoid inflicting whiplash on themselves and others by keeping a safe distance - at least two seconds - from the vehicle ahead."

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