Rescue Operations Involving The 2003 Honda Element

July 1, 2003
SUBJECT:2003-04 Model Year VehiclesTOPIC:The 2003 Honda ElementOBJECTIVE:Identify the unique operating features and designs found on the 2003 Honda ElementTASK: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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Drawing courtesy of American Honda Motors Co. Inc. The space frame structure of the Element is shown in this drawing.

Honda calls the rear tailgate design of the Element a "clamshell tailgate." Opening the rear of the vehicle at a crash incident greatly increases patient access and provides a large extrication pathway. The rear seats are removable or they can flip up and secure along the sidewalls of the Element. If the rear seats are folded and positioned up against the sidewalls, they are secured by hinges along the sides of the vehicle. The seats themselves will not interfere with total roof removal, but will probably have to be lowered once the roof is off. Besides folding the rear seats up on the sidewalls for quick patient handling and longboard room, the front and rear seatbacks recline completely. Up front, the steering column comes standard as a tilt column meaning it can be tilted up to provide maximum clearance for driver extrication.

Photo by Ron Moore The cargo door can open more than 90 degrees at a crash scene. The hidden B-pillar is inside the door itself. The seatbelt is positioned completely on the rear-hinged door. Note how the C-pillar would have to be cut above the upper door hinge for total roof removal.

TASK: Describe how each of the highlighted features or designs influences EMS and rescue activities at an incident involving a 2003 Honda Element:

  • 58% of vehicle weight supported by front suspension system
  • Composite body panels
  • Space frame, unit-body construction
  • Two side cargo doors
  • Hidden structural B-pillar inside the cargo doors
  • Seatbelt mounted on cargo doors
  • Vehicle stabilization during roof evolutions
  • Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) for front passenger side-impact airbag
  • Front seatbelt pretensioners
  • Clamshell tailgate
  • Rear seat stowing and recline features
Photo by Ron Moore The passenger rear seat is stowed up against the sidewall of the Element while the driver’s side rear seat remains in the normal position. Two large hinges pivot the rear seats up or down.
Photo by Ron Moore With the front door and the cargo door open, the missing B-pillar is obvious. The cargo door latches to the rocker channel, the front door and at the roofline.Ronald E. Moore, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the "MembersZone" and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the website. Moore can be contacted directly at [email protected].

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