Active head restraint

Long time it was considered that the head restraints are only passive elements to support the head while traveling by car, ie elements of comfort. Actually they are intended primarily for head retention in case of impact, being the elements of protection and passive safety.

Active Head Restraint system is a passive safety system in a car. Some manufacturers also term it as the ‘Active Headrest’.

Head restraints are some of the most ignored constituent elements of a car. And yet, they can make the difference between a healthy life and one full of atrocious pain to the spine around the neck area (the cervical region). The reason: if another car hits you from behind at speeds above 10 km / h, the position of the head restraints and their geometry have a determinant role in the manner in which head and neck moves following the impact. Usually, the symptoms of those affected range from simple pain caused by stretching muscles and ligaments to nerve damage, vertebrae or, in rare cases extremely harsh, even to tears of the ligaments of the neck or cervical bone fractures.

Head restraint

Active head restraint

[Active head restraints accidents occur in the upper vertebrae of the spine. They are part of the passive safety systems, along with seatbelts and airbags.]

Active Headrests

The Swedes were the first which mounted Active Head restrain on Saab cars in 1997. Active Headrest acts selectively, differently, depending on body weight, height, sex and speed of the car who are suffering the impact. Volvo immediately bought the patent from Saab in 1999 and the excellent results of the two Swedish constructors have made other car manufacturers to rethink fundamentally the role that headrests play in the economy of a possible accident. Thus, active head restraints have become a necessity and not a luxury – as was the case until a few years ago. And the role of head restraints has become as important as is the airbag or seatbelt.

Seat headrest moves forward, towards the front in case of a rear impact collision to alleviate the shock, and after the impact, under the action of spring returns to its original position. The accident statistics show that the active headrest provides better protection of women in 55% of cases of impact and only 31% for men.

It has been found that by using active head restraints, if collisions occur at speeds below 24 km / h, the number of injuries decreases by 50%. The effectiveness of the head restraints can be maximal adjusted correctly only if they are adjusted correctly and act in close contact with seatbelts.


Active head restraint vs. Standard head restraint

Different types of head restraints

Head restraint
  • refers to a device created to reduce the rearward displacement of an adult occupant’s head relating to the body in order to decrease the chance of injury to the cervical vertebrae in case of a back impact. The most efficient head restraint need to enable a backset movement of lower than 60 millimeters in order to avoid the hyperextension of the neck during impact.

Integrated head restraint
  • or fixed head restraint – represents a head restraint shaped by the upper portion of the seat back, or a head restraint which is not height adjustable and also can not be unattached from the seat or the automobile structure besides by using tools or following the partial or complete removal of the seat furnishing.

Adjustable head restraint
  • refers to a head restraint which is capable of being positioned to suit the morphology of the seated occupant. The device could allow horizontally shift, also known as tilt adjustment, and/or vertical displacement, generally known as height adjustment.

Active head restraint
  • refers to a device designed to automatically enhance head restraint position and/or geometry during a direct impact.

Automatically adjusting head restraint
  • refers to a head restraint that automatically modifies the position of the head restraint once the seat position is adjusted.


  1. wrote on June 19th, 2020 at 6:47 am


    Thanks for all the info which you have gathered here.

  2. wrote on August 16th, 2020 at 2:58 pm


    For me personally I have found that when sitting in a car with the new Active Headrest technology it tends to trigger/enhance my migraines. I noticed in the diagrams above that it is intended to support the head at the base of the skull. For a migraine sufferer this is just one of the trigger areas for migraines. Since almost all makes of vehicle have now started putting them in their new vehicles a migraine sufferer is very limited in how they now approach vehicle selection. A second alternative needs to be introduced to accommodate people who have medical conditions that are aggravated by the new design.

  3. wrote on July 11th, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    Brian Gilliland

    I found my Subaru head restraint a real “pain in the neck” as it was too far forward and not adjustable. Made me want to take it off.
    My Peugeot is much better but I’d still like some fore/aft adjustment – maybe my skeletal structure is different although I’m not aware of it.

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