Rescue Operations Involving The 2003 Honda Element

SUBJECT: 2003-04 Model Year Vehicles TOPIC: The 2003 Honda Element OBJECTIVE: Identify the unique operating features and designs found on the 2003 Honda Element TASK: Describe how...


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SUBJECT: 2003-04 Model Year Vehicles
TOPIC: The 2003 Honda Element
OBJECTIVE: Identify the unique operating features and designs found on the 2003 Honda Element
TASK: Describe how each of the highlighted features or designs influences EMS and rescue activities at an incident involving a 2003 Honda Element.

Honda has introduced a new vehicle in its lineup, the 2003 Element. This small-size SUV has a somewhat unusual appearance, sometimes referred to as a mini-Hummer, after its resemblance to the H2 vehicle from General Motors. The Honda Element comes with several unique features that fire and rescue personnel should familiarize themselves with.

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Photo by Ron Moore
The 2003 Element is a new sport utility vehicle offered by Honda Motors. It incorporates several new design features of interest to emergency responders.

The vehicle weighs in at 3,352 pounds, with 58% of that weight supported by the MacPherson strut front suspension. The ground clearance is approximately seven inches. The standard 12-volt battery is within the engine compartment and the 16-gallon fuel tank is beneath the floorpan, ahead of the rear axle.

Some of the body panels of the Element are made of a composite material while the others remain sheet steel. The panels are secured to a familiar space frame, uni-body assembly, meaning that there is no full frame structure under the vehicle.

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Photo by Ron Moore
This driver’s side view shows the frontal and side impact airbags of the Element.

With a seating capacity of four persons, access into and out of the vehicle is accomplished by opening either of two conventional forward-opening, front-hinged doors or the two rear side doors that Honda calls "side cargo doors." These doors are rear-hinged, rear-opening and latch at three points on the vehicle: front door, roofline and rocker channel. This design is similar to what is encountered currently with third or fourth doors on late-model pickup trucks. During jammed-door evolutions, the front door should be opened first, then the cargo door attacked. During roof removal, the C-pillar will have to be cut above the top cargo door hinge.

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Photo by Ron Moore
All four seats fully recline. This allows for increased access to occupants during patient care. Note the seatbelt buckle pretensioner unit for the front seats.

With the Element's front door open and the cargo door on the same side open, it is evident that there is no B-pillar. To meet side-impact crash standards, Honda engineers concealed a hidden structural B-pillar inside the cargo door. With the side cargo door closed, the hidden B-pillar inside the cargo door latches to the Element's rocker channel and roof to reinforce the sidewall structure of the vehicle. There is also one side-impact collision beam inside each front door. During an entrapment situation, it is possible that both front doors and both cargo doors could be opened. If this were the case, extra precautions would be necessary to assure that the vehicle remains stable and won't collapse when the roof pillars are cut for a roof removal evolution.

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Drawing courtesy of American Honda Motors Co. Inc.
This line art depicts the inflation zones of the frontal airbags and the side impact, torso airbags. There are no roof mounted airbags.

Dual-stage frontal airbags are standard and seat-mounted side-impact torso airbags are optional. Honda took this safety technology a step further with its Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS). The system utilizes sensors in the seatback of the front passenger's seat to detect the height and seating position of the occupant. If a child or small-statured adult is leaning on or toward the side door, or is otherwise positioned within the deployment path of the side airbag, sensors automatically deactivate it. This means that it is possible that even after an impact on the passenger's side, that airbag could remain loaded if the occupant were out of position or the seat were occupied by a small child. This is not what we are used to; a side crash typically results in side airbag deployment, but now not necessarily so. All four seating positions have three-point seatbelts with the front seatbelt systems also having pretensioners at the buckle end.

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