Car insurance companies have called for a clampdown on fraudulent whiplash claims which they say are driving up premium costs for honest road users. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has dubbed the UK the "whiplash capital of Europe", as one out of every 140 people claim for a whiplash injury every year.
Whiplash happens when the soft tissue in the spine is stretched and strained after a sudden forceful movement, but it is often difficult to diagnose, making it easy for people to fake or exaggerate. The ABI said the activities of ambulance chasing lawyers, claim management firms and staged "cash for crash" accidents were increasing the number of claims.
An estimated 1,200 whiplash claims are made on a daily basis in Britain, which is six times more than the amount of people who claim workplace-related injuries every year.
Around 1,200 whiplash claims are made in the UK every day, six times more than the number of people who claim for work-place related injuries each year.
Three-quarters of personal injury claims in the UK are for whiplash, the highest level in Europe.
The NHS spends around £8 million a year treating the injuries, but insurers are paying out nearly £2 billion annually for whiplash claims.
The high level of payouts for personal injuries is contributing to steep increases in insurance premiums, with the cost of motor cover soaring by 40% during the past year.
The ABI estimates that the cost of whiplash claims adds around 20% or £74 to motor insurance premiums.
Speaking at the 2011 Whiplash conference in Leeds, James Dalton, the ABI's assistant director of motor and liability, said: "Despite the statistics I doubt that that the UK has some of the weakest necks in Europe.
"Often difficult to diagnose, easy to fake and exaggerate, whiplash is a fraudster's dream."
The ABI is calling on insurers, doctors and lawyers to form a partnership to help prevent whiplash and to improve its treatment, as well as cracking down on fraudulent claims.
It wants authoritative medical guidance on how to accurately diagnose and treat genuine whiplash to be developed, as well as raising consumer awareness about the importance of keeping a safe breaking distance between vehicles, as tailgating is the main cause of the injury.
The group also wants the Government's proposals on civil justice reform to be implemented, to ensure that genuine claimants get fair compensation and access to rehabilitation more quickly, and to reduce the scope for fraudulent claims.
Mr Dalton said: "We seem ill-equipped to effectively identify and treat whiplash, our compensation system is too slow in paying fair compensation and offering rehabilitation to genuine claimants, and our compensation culture encourages fraud. All this must change."