Occult abdominal injuries to airbag-protected crash victims: a challenge to trauma systems

J Trauma. 1995 Apr;38(4):502-8. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199504000-00007.


A multidisciplinary, automobile crash investigation team at the University of Miami School of Medicine, William Lehman Injury Research Center of Jackson Memorial Hospital/Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, Florida, is conducting a detailed medical and engineering study. The focus is restrained (seatbelts, airbag, or both) occupants involved in frontal crashes who have been severely injured. More than 60 crashes have been included in the study to date. Analysis of the initial data supports the general conclusion that restraint systems are working to reduce many of the head and chest injuries suffered by unrestrained occupants. However, abdominal injuries among airbag-protected occupants still occur. Some are found among occupants who appeared uninjured at the scene. Case examples are provided to illustrate abdominal injuries associated with airbag-protected crashes. The challenges of recognizing injuries to airbag-protected occupants are discussed. To assist in recognizing the extent of injuries to occupants protected by airbags, it is suggested that evidence from the crash scene be used in the triage decision. For the abdominal injury cases observed in this study, deformation of the steering system was the vehicle characteristic most frequently observed. The presence of steering wheel deformation is an indicator of increased likelihood of internal injury. This may justify transporting the victim to a trauma center for a closer examination for abdominal injuries.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries / etiology*
  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Aged
  • Air Bags
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged