Influence of Advanced Airbags on Injury Risk During Frontal Crashes


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Virginia Tech


The combination of airbag and seatbelt is considered to be the most effective vehicle safety system. However, despite the widespread availability of airbags and a belt use rate of over 85% U.S. drivers involved in crashes continue to be at risk of serious thoracic injury. One hypothesis is that this risk may be due to the lack of airbag deployment or the airbag 'bottoming-out' in some cases, causing drivers to make contact with the steering. The objective of this study is to determine the influence of various advanced airbags on occupant injury risk in frontal automobile crash.

The analysis is based upon cases extracted from the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS/CDS) database for case years 1993-2011. The approach was to compare the frontal crash performance of advanced airbags against depowered airbags, first generation airbags, and vehicles with no airbag equipped. NASS/CDS steering wheel deformation measurements were used to identify cases in which thoracic injuries may have been caused due to steering wheel impact and deformation. The distributions of injuries for all cases were determined by body region and injury severity. These distributions were used to compare and contrast injury outcomes for cases with frontal airbag deployment for both belted and unbelted drivers.

Among frontal crash cases with belted drivers, observable steering wheel deformation occurred in less than 4% of all cases, but accounted for 29% of all serious-to-fatally injured belted drivers and 28% of belted drivers with serious thoracic injuries (AIS3+). Similarly, observable steering wheel deformation occurred in approximately 13% of all cases with unbelted drivers involved in frontal crashes, but accounted for 58% of serious-to-fatally injured unbelted drivers and 66% of unbelted drivers with serious thoracic injuries. In a frontal crash, the factors which were statistically significant in the probability of steering wheel deformation were: longitudinal delta-V, driver weight, and driver belt status. Seatbelt pre-tensioner and load limiters were not significant factors in influencing steering wheel deformation. Furthermore, belted drivers in vehicles with no airbag equipped were found to have 3 times higher odds of deforming the steering wheel, as compared to driver in similar crash scenario. Similarly, unbelted drivers were found to have 2 times greater odds of deforming the steering wheel in vehicles with no airbags equipped as compared to vehicles with advanced airbag. The result also showed no statistically significant difference in the odds of deforming the steering wheel between depowered and advanced airbag. After controlling for crash severity, and driver weight, the study showed that crashes with steering wheel deformation results in greater odds of injury in almost all body regions for both belted and unbelted drivers. Moreover, steering wheel deformation is more likely to occur in unbelted drivers than belted drivers, as well as higher severity crashes and with heavier drivers.

Another potential factor in influencing driver crash injury is the knee airbag. After comparing the odds of injury between vehicles with and without knee airbags equipped, belted drivers in vehicles equipped with knee airbag were found to have statistically smaller odds of injury in the thorax, abdomen, and upper extremity. Similarly, the findings showed that unbelted drivers benefited from knee airbag through statistically significant lower odds of chest and lower extremity injuries. However, the results should be considered with caution as the study is limited by its small sample of vehicles with knee airbags.



advanced airbag, logistic regression, frontal crash, driver injury