Many seat-mounted side-impact airbags today are designed to be much taller. By adding height, the automaker could offer protection to the occupant's head.
Topic: Head/Torso Side-Impact Protection
Here's a quick refresher on side impact airbag design that is especially important for EMS responders to understand. Originally, side-impact airbags that deploy from the outboard edges of the seats were only referred to as 'torso' airbags. They were small in size and really only designed to protect the occupant's torso up to the level of the shoulders. When deaths in side collisions did not significantly decrease in vehicles equipped with torso airbags, the automakers came up with another solution; the head-torso airbag.
Many seat-mounted side-impact airbags today are designed to be much taller. By adding height, the automaker could offer protection to the occupant's head. A head/torso airbag still deploys from the seat and inflates upward until it almost touches the underside of the roofline.
With a vehicle equipped with roof-mounted side-impact airbags, the automaker can provide the smaller torso airbag in the seat location and cover the occupant's head and upper body with the roof airbag.
This artist's rendering of dual airbag deployment in a Mercedes CL sedan reinforces how seat and roof airbags work together to protect the front seat occupant. In the image with both occupants seated, you can see how your driver 'patient' is protected by two bags while the rear seat patient only receives head airbag coverage. With the occupants removed in the second image, the total coverage for the driver becomes even more obvious.
Crash Course Teaching Point:
Occupants on the impact side of a vehicle need torso and head protection if they are to have the best chances of surviving a side collision. This head/torso protection can come from one single airbag, a head/torso seat-mounted airbag, or a combination of two airbags; seat and roof.
Check out what airbag system is in the vehicle you are working on and factor that information into your assessment of the patient's possible mechanisms of injury. There may very well be a difference in the protection afforded to the person in the front seat compared to the individual seated directly behind them.
Be Informed...Be Ready...Beware!