Saturday, September 1st 2012
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Changes in the rear-seat mounted side airbag design

Technology update September 2012

The worldwide automotive industry is continuously trying to build safer vehicles. While some of the enhancements are driven by various government regulations, the majority of safety and supplemental restraint system enhancements are in response to the consumer's desire for an overall safer vehicle.


In the past few years, rescuers have seen the introduction of numerous additional locations and styles of airbags in new vehicles. General Motors introduced the front center airbag, which deploys from the in-board side of the driver's seat in its Traverse and other models on the same platform. Volvo has added a pedestrian protection airbag to its European V40 model. The rear roof rail airbag is standard in the Toyota IQ (Europe)/Scion IQ (North America). In addition, Ford continues to add the rear inflatable seatbelt to additional vehicles.


For the 2013 model year, another new and unique location for airbags in vehicles will be the rear-seat mounted pelvic airbag, being introduced by the Chrysler Group, LLC. in the reincarnation of the Dodge Dart. These new airbags, working in conjunction with the side curtain airbags, are designed to protect rear seat occupants in the event of a side impact collision. However, the major difference is that, unlike other current rear seat mounted bags, these airbags deploy upward from the base of the rear seat rather than laterally from the side of the seat back cushion. The airbag and the stored gas cylinder for deployment are located in the lower seat cushion area. During a side impact, the airbag will deploy in an upward direction from the outer most portion of the seat cushion. The deployment is accomplished by using a cold-fired stored gas pressure cylinder, which is connected to the airbag control module.


As can be seen in the graphics, the position of the cold-fired stored gas cylinders may require a change in certain extrication evolutions, especially those where the base of the rear seat is used as a "push-off" point, such as a ramming evolution or two-door side removal. As with any other supplemental restraint system components, rescuers will need to identify the locations of components prior to any extrication evolution. Rescuers do not want to take a chance of damaging an undeployed store pressure cylinder, which could potentially cause tool damage, or rescuer or patient injury.


As with every vehicle a rescuer encounters at a motor vehicle collision, they need to make sure that the vehicle has been properly depowered (ignition off and 12-volt battery disconnected at minimum) prior to any extrication operation. This will begin to make the vehicle "safe" by depowering the airbag electronic control module.


These new airbags are just two of the ten standard airbags in the 2013 Dodge Dart. Other locations include the steering wheel and passenger dashboard air bags; front driver and passenger seat mounted bags; driver and passenger knee airbags; and all-row side curtain airbags. Additional safety enhancements to the Dodge Dart, according to a Chrysler Group LLC press release include "a body that has a high-strength steel content of 68 percent, one of the highest in the industry."


Crash Recovery System users will want to note that the stored gas inflator for driver airbags and conventional side airbags are not separately designated within the CRS. Jörg Heck, Moditech's extrication specialist, explains that this is in keeping with the design of all Crash Recovery System graphics where inflator mechanism locations are only specifically identified when the inflator is remote from the airbag itself, such as curtain airbags, door-mounted side airbags or the Dodge Dart's rear seat mounted pelvic airbag. 

It is imperative that rescuers know what's inside before beginning extrication evolutions in the modern automobile. Use of the Crash Recovery System, either in training or real collision scenarios, allows rescuers to make quick, but critical, extrication decisions. Knowing what's inside prior to operations will ultimately provide for a safer extrication operation for both rescuers and victims.


Eric J. Rickenbach ("EJR") is a 30-year veteran of the volunteer emergency services from Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania (USA). He is also a rescue instructor specializing in vehicle and machinery rescue and farm/agricultural rescue, teaching over 500 hours of classes a year. In addition to teaching, he is active in several related vehicle rescue committees. He can be reached by email at