Human Factors and Whiplash

In determining a patient's susceptibility to cervical spine injuries from a collision, this researcher1 analyzed the Volkswagen Accident Database, and assessed gender, age, height, and weight of the injured. He hoped his findings would reveal trends that could be used to conclude both the risk and frequency of certain factors influencing whiplash injuries.

Despite the preponderance of male occupants involved in rear-end collisions, females suffered greater injuries, and the risk of injury in women was twice as high:





Male to Female Relationship (%)

Occupants Involved




58.9: 41.1

Occupants Injured




39.2: 60.8

% Injured





A number of hypotheses were offered to explain this finding. They included anatomical differences—in particular, proportions of neck size and differences in neck muscle strength—and different seating practices between males and females. "Women tend to sit further forward in their seats than men, their heads moving farther to the rear in a crash before reaching a head restraint."2

88.7% of injured patients were between the age of 18 and 57. Generally, women were most at risk between ages of 18 and 27, and men between 38 and 47.

The risk of injuries to women increases with an increase in height; but with men no correlation was found. The higher height group is concentrated with men, just as the lower height group is concentrated with women, therefore, the author finds assessing an height factor ineffectual, since it just points to the different proportions of men and women:

"Due to these peculiarities it does not appear sensible, even after evaluation the mean curves of distortion risk, to attempt a uniform statement of the potential effect of physical stature on the injury risk in rear-end collisions."

In regard to weight, a woman was found to be at the peak of risk if she weighed between 132 and 143 pounds, but at low risk if she weighed an amount higher or lower than that range. Men were most susceptible between 154 and 165 pounds, but at higher risk if they weighed more or less than this.

The author concludes that frequency does not parallel high risk with many of the variables. A prime example emerges in discussing the type of collision. It was found that the highest risk of cervical spine distortions occurred with rear end collisions, since 22.9% suffered whiplash injuries compared to 10.5% of those who were involved in frontal collisions.

  1. Temming J. Human factors data in relation to whiplash injuries in rear end collisions of passenger cars. Society of Automotive Engineers 1998; SAE 981191.
  2. Whiplash Injuries, Status Report, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 1995;30(8) September 16, 1995.