Drivers across the country say they are living in fear of their own vehicles after their headrest forcefully struck them in the head with no warning. Some have complained the vehicles should be recalled, and a few have taken legal action against the manufacturer.
The reports are coming from Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge owners, and a few drivers have ended up in the emergency room.
“All of the sudden I felt a like hit in the back of the head. I was like freaked out a little,” said Shawn Alger, who owns a Jeep.
Alger reached out to NBC Bay Area stating he was heading to work one morning when the head rest in his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee just burst open.
Laura Baca reported a similar issue to our Responds team in Los Angeles. She was parked in her 2014 Chrysler Town and Country van, when the headrest unexpectedly came apart.
“I was just sitting there on the phone and I all of the sudden got hit in the back of the head. And it pushed me completely forward,” Baca said.
Enfield native Barbara Savoie also contacted Responds, though she considers herself lucky. She wasn’t driving her 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee when the passenger’s side headrest suddenly deployed.
“I’m scared. I’m concerned about driving this car,” Savoie said.
Barbara said Jeep replaced just her passenger side headrest, not the driver’s side. She worries it could happen again with her behind the wheel.
“If I’m driving down the highway doing 55, 65 miles an hour and that thing blows, I could, I could get into an accident and hurt someone else,” she said.
A search of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s complaint database turns up dozens of other Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge drivers with similar stories.
How could this happen? Some headrests are actually designed to pop open in an accident. That’s according to the owner’s manual.
Through crash testing, engineers developed what they call the “active head restraint” to reduce whiplash. The front part snaps out a few inches to stop your neck from moving too much in a rear-end collision. But they should not deploy randomly on the road.
“What our experts have told us and what we believe is that the plastic is deteriorating over time,” explained California attorney Stuart Talley.
Talley is currently awaiting a judge’s decision to move forward on his class action lawsuit against Chrysler over the headrests.
The complaint blames a tiny plastic bracket inside. Talley believes one side of this latch can wear out and shatter spontaneously, propelling the headrest into the driver’s head.
In a separate lawsuit filed in Florida, the judge ruled the plaintiffs’ claims of breach of warranty related to the vehicle headrests and for violation of Florida’s consumer protection statutes were barred by the statute of limitations.
That court also found that the plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts to show that Chrysler concealed defects in the systems that caused injuries.
In response to an NBC Connecticut Responds request for comment, Chrysler sent this statement:
“FCA US vehicles meet or exceed all federal safety requirements. Customer safety is a top priority at FCA US. Active head restraints enhance vehicle safety. Evaluations confirm that even in the rare event of inadvertent deployment there is no unreasonable risk of injury. Absent such risk, there is no safety defect. FCA US strongly objects to any alternate characterization.”
Savoie said she feels the company is putting drivers at risk by not recalling the vehicles.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to be someone that’s going to be killed,” she said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement “NHTSA is aware of this issue and is actively monitoring complaints filed by consumers to evaluate if the part poses a safety risk. NHTSA will continue discussions with the manufacturer about remedying this part and will not hesitate to act if a safety defect is identified.