Online Exclusive

'Crash Course' Quick Drill - Part XXIV

A common mistake that is associated with vehicle crashes is that dual "spider webs" on the windshield indicate airbag deployment, but that is in correct.

When approaching a crash-damaged vehicle, the condition of the windshield can actually serve as one component of your patient assessment. Undamaged is one thing. All busted up means something else to the alert responder.

Circular rings with cracks radiating outward, known as the windshield spider web, can indicate that your patient struck the windshield during the collision as a mechanism of injury. This has been a long-time mechanism of injury indicator taught to emergency medical. There is a fine point of this assessment that must be realized by EMS personnel. We all can agree that there are several reasons that the windshield of the car you are approaching at the crash scene can have spider web damage.

The first reason that everyone thinks of is head impact from an unrestrained occupant. A second reason is what this author calls UFOs, or unidentified flying objects; those loose personal items inside the vehicle that fly forward and impact the windshield. In addition to occupant impact and UFO impact, a major reason for windshield spider web damage on modern-day vehicles is frontal airbag deployment.

But this is where the EMS responder has to be very alert. Frontal airbag deployment can only cause a windshield spider web on the passenger's side of the glass. You cannot have a spider web on the driver's side due to airbag deployment. Think about it. The driver's airbag is actually aimed away from the glass. Chances are any spider webs on the driver's side of the glass are either from your patient contacting the glass or the UFO; not because the driver'?s airbag deployed.

Crash Course Teaching Point: Airbag deployment can only cause a windshield spider web on the passenger's side. You cannot have a spider web on the driver's side due to airbag deployment.

Be Informed...Be Ready...Beware!

RON MOORE, a Contributing Editor, is a battalion chief/fire training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He is the author of the University of Extrication series, featured each month in Firehouse Magazine and is the moderator of the University of Extrication interactive forums on In 1984, he received the International Society of Fire Service Instructors George D. Post Instructor of the Year award for development of the first school bus rescue training program in the United States. In 2000, Ron was awarded the International Association of Fire Chief's "Excellence in Rescue" award. Ron has presented the following TrainingLIVE webcasts: New Exotic Metal Extrication Challenges Responders Face, The Top 10 Challenges of Vehicle Rescue Today and U of E: School Bus Emergencies. To read Ron's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Ron by e-mail at