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Holden's Side Impact Airbag is a Safety First

10 July, 1998

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Holden, first manufacturer to introduce driver airbags in an Australian-made car, will soon offer the extra safety protection of side impact airbags. The new and technologically advanced side airbag system was previewed this week by Holden safety engineers at a special demonstration in Melbourne. The seat-mounted side impact airbag (SIAB), which has been developed to protect against head, neck and chest injury, represents another 'safety first' for the local manufacturer. It will soon become available as an optional fitment on Holden Acclaim, Berlina and Calais models.

Laurie Sparke, Holden's Manager, Advanced Engineering, said the side airbag had been developed in response to accident research data which shows that fatalities and serious injuries from side impact crashes in Australia are almost as frequent as those resulting from frontal crashes.

"Side crashes in Australia are also likely to be more severe than they are in the US or Europe, which is one reason why we have developed our own system rather than choose something 'off the shelf' from overseas. Holden's head and thorax (chest) side airbag is unique. It deploys in two stages, guarding against head and neck injury as well as chest injury. Most side airbags offer chest protection only," he continued.

"This is leading edge technology. It demonstrates Holden's commitment to deliver real world injury protection instead of satisfying ourselves with government compliance," Laurie Sparke said.

Commodore's head/thorax side impact airbag is fitted into the rear outer area of the driver and front passenger seats. This position ensures that it is next to the occupant and in the correct position, regardless of the chosen seat position or seat back angle.

Like Holden's front airbags, the SIAB is controlled by an electronic sensing and diagnostic module, which works in tandem with peripheral acceleration sensors. In the case of a severe side collision, the decision to deploy can be made and acted upon as soon as 5 milliseconds (5 one thousandths of a second) after impact.

The side airbag cushion fires at an angle, away from the seat occupant. It has two distinct sections. The lower part (thorax section) inflates first, immediately protecting the chest, which is closest to the door; then the top part (head section) fills to protect the head and neck.

Design and development of the SIAB system saw Holden's advanced engineering team combine high-tech computer crash modelling and accident simulation techniques with an extensive barrier and hyge sled crash testing program. They were assisted by the world's most highly evolved side impact crash test dummies: a male known as BioSID, and a sophisticated, fully instrumented female called SID IIs - the only one of its kind in Australia.

"They're the best available," says Laurie Sparke. "Much of our focus has been on developing maximum protection for women, who are far more at risk of head and neck injury than men are. The SID IIs dummy, which is representative of a small female, is a complex instrument that's capable of delivering over 120 channels of information, which enables comprehensive injury risk assessment. By contrast, the dummy others use to comply with government regulations has only eight channels and cannot assess head and neck injury risk," he said.

The move to include side impact airbag protection in its vehicles is the latest in a series of 'safety firsts' for Holden. It was the first local manufacturer to introduce a driver airbag (1993), and a front passenger airbag (1995). Holden's restraint system is acknowledged by the US National Transport Safety Board as an international benchmark in airbag design.

Since 1992, the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) has conducted a national field accident research program on Holden's behalf. In a separate program, Holden this year embarked on further research into side impact injury risks in conjunction with the Federal Office of Road Safety, MUARC, the Australian Automobile Association and Autoliv Australia.

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