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SUBJECT: Airbag Supplemental Restraint Systems
TOPIC: Understanding airbag deployment criteria
OBJECTIVE: The responder will list and explain the conditions that must be met to deploy airbags in vehicle collisions
TASK: Given a scenario of a vehicle frontal collision where airbags did not deploy, the responder will be able to list and explain possible reasons why the airbags might not have deployed and safety precautions to assure responder safety around these units.
In this day and age, responders expect that when they arrive at a crash scene, each of the vehicles involved will have at least two frontal airbags and probably side-impact seat and roof airbags as well. A new vehicle today can have just two airbags or may have up to 12 different airbags to protect the occupants.
As the number of airbags in vehicles increases, so does the possibility that responders will encounter "live" bags: undeployed airbags. A frontal crash won't deploy the roof, door, or seat airbags for example; just the front airbags and knee bags if present. A T-bone collision will leave the frontal airbags and the side-impact airbags opposite the collision side "live." As rescuers, we need to anticipate the presence of undeployed airbags and have operating guidelines for working near to these "live" bags. Staying clear of the inflation zones is the cardinal rule for our safety. Taking away vehicle electrical power early in our on-scene actions is another progressive action for crews to accomplish."10, 20 & 5" Guideline
Remaining outside of the 10-inch inflation zone for the driver's frontal bag and maintaining 20 inches of clearance from the passenger's frontal airbag will keep inside personnel out of danger. Side-impact door, seat, and roof airbags are typically five inches thick at the moment they fully inflate so we say five inches is their inflation zone. Remember, although roof curtain airbags cover the side window glass area, they can be as long as from A-pillar to rear pillar; nine feet long for a Ford Expedition with third-row seating, for example. Knee bags generally inflate toward the front-seat area a distance of five inches as well. So the "10, 20, & 5" inflation zone guideline is a good one to keep in mind when working an incident.Airbag Non-Deployment
Another airbag deployment reality for responders that is becoming increasingly common is to encounter a seemingly severely crashed vehicle only to find that no airbags deployed. The front end is mangled; fluids are leaking all over the place. Glass lies all over the road and the front of the car looks mutilated. The surprise is that inside, all airbags are completely intact. What went wrong? Is this a manufacturing defect or what?
Our case study this month looks at a two-vehicle collision where a Honda sedan ran into the rear of a stopped Ford Explorer SUV. Both vehicles were in the same lane of traffic. The SUV slowed and came to a stop, waiting to make a turn when the Honda rear-ended it. The unbelted driver of the Honda struck the windshield above the steering column. The front of the Honda crumpled significantly as it rammed the rear of the Explorer and went underneath its rear bumper.
Incidents like this are occurring all across the country and responders are surprised to find the frontal bags intact. It seems that we get caught up in "judging a book by its cover." We tend to look at crash damage and mentally assess the severity of the collision based upon what we see. This is an acceptable size-up procedure as far as gathering information about potential mechanisms of injury where the patient is concerned or when considering potential extrication challenges but it isn't the whole story when it comes to airbag deployment.