1994-11-01

Laboratory Investigations and Mathematical Modeling of Airbag-Induced Skin Burns 942217

Although driver-side airbag systems provide protection against serious head and chest injuries in frontal impacts, injuries produced by the airbag itself have also been reported. Most of these injuries are relatively minor, and consist primarily of skin abrasions and burns. Previous investigations have addressed the mechanisms of airbag-induced skin abrasion. In the current research, laboratory studies related to the potential for thermal burns due to high-temperature airbag exhaust gas were conducted. A laboratory apparatus was constructed to produce a 10-mm-diameter jet of hot air that was directed onto the leg skin of human volunteers in time-controlled pulses. Skin burns were produced in 70 of 183 exposures conducted using air temperatures ranging from 350 to 550°C, air velocities from 50 to 90 m/s, and exposure durations from 50 to 300 ms. A mathematical model of heat transfer to the skin and burn injury was developed, along with an empirical description of the threshold for partial-thickness skin burn as a function of gas velocity, gas temperature, and exposure duration. The mathematical burn injury model was combined with a lumped-parameter gas-dynamics model of airbag inflation to demonstrate the application of the skin thermal tolerance data to prediction of airbag-induced skin burn.

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