Whiplash injuries account for more than three-quarters of all insurance claims resulting from a Road Traffic Accident. The insurance industry is adamant that many such claims are fraudulent; however without an effective test for injury and with symptoms so easy to imitate it is extremely difficult to prove that these claims are fabricated.
The insurance industry is now developing a whiplash lie detector, known as the WITkit (Whiplash Injury Toolkit), which attempts to calculate when Claimants are inventing or exaggerating their symptoms in order to prevent compensation payments being made for fraudulent cases.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has confirmed that the percentage of people allegedly sustaining whiplash in Great Britain is more than twice the average for other European countries. Stephen Haddrill, the former ABI Director General, comments "Do we really have weaker necks? Part of the answer must lie in our failing personal injury compensation system and our no-questions-asked approach to whiplash."
Thatcham, the industry's automotive test centre, is assisting in the development of the WITkit. In a similar manner to assessing car seats, head restraints and air bags for safety standards, the whiplash lie detector includes a rating of vehicles for their level of whiplash protection. Accidents involving cars judged to be âgood' or âacceptable' are more likely to highlight the possibility of a fraudulent whiplash claim.
The current drawback of the WITkit is that it can only indicate the probability of whether a Claimant is lying, rather than providing a definite assessment. Whiplash is a soft tissue injury and therefore doctors cannot ever be certain whether a patient is truly suffering or not. The Technical Director at the Transport Research Laboratory, Richard Cuerden, believes that in its current form the WITkit will be effective for approximately 10% of whiplash cases. He suggests that this percentage could be dramatically improved with some human testing involving crash simulations; although we are not at this stage yet.
At present, the ABI estimates that compensation payments alone cost the insurance industry £9.4 billion per year, with whiplash claims costing £2 billion and fraudulent claims costing £1.9 billion. The resulting outcome is that drivers are being required to pay increased premiums for car insurance in order to cover these spiralling costs. Clearly any attempts to reduce these payouts will be welcomed and the development of the whiplash lie detector looks set to be the first of many.