Everything You Need to Know About Airbags

An airbag is an air filled bag that automatically deploys upon the impact of your car with another object. This is considered a passive safety mechanism. Airbags serve to protect passengers from impacting with inner parts of the car that could lead to serious injury. Not only do they keep your head from slamming into the steering wheel, but side airbags protect your head from hitting the windows as well. They drastically reduce your chances of serious trauma to your head and brain during an accident.

In 1952, an industrial engineer by the name of John Wenrick was the first person to start developing the technology for safety devices like the airbag. He came up with a safety cushion for vehicles that he believed could greatly reduce injuries in an accident. Shortly after, Ford Motors began pursuing safety mechanisms that utilized Wenrick’s inflatable technology. A decade later, Mercedes began prototyping airbags to be used in their vehicles.

As accident rates rose, legislation was presented to require automotive manufacturers to equip their cars with an automatic protection mechanism for passengers. Engineer Allen Breed ended up designing a crash sensor to deploy airbags before the legislation passed.

It wasn’t until the late 1980’s the the US government finally passed a law dictating that any cars manufactured after that date would be required to come equipped with an airbag system. However, this law was limited to just general vehicles, and not until 1995 did the law change to require light trucks to offer the same safety features.

Out of the 230 million vehicles on the road, slightly less than 75% contain an automatic airbag system, which would bring the number of vehicles with proper safety restraints down to 163 million cars. Only about 20 million, or less than 10% of vehicles have integrated a passenger seat air bag system as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety commission estimates that airbags are responsible for saving almost 20 thousand lives so far. The use of a seat-belt along with the presence of airbags has reduced fatalities in head-on collisions by almost 25%. In the category of people who don’t use seat belts, having an airbag in an accident decreased fatalities by 32%

A second generation of airbags was later released and the biggest difference was that it used less force than the first generation. Cars with the newer version of airbags saw another 6% decrease in fatality rates during accidents. These statistics only apply to adult-sized passengers, however. With children under 10 years old, death rates actually increased by 34% with the presence of an airbag.

In the event of a traumatic head injury, seat belts on their own caused an injury decrease of 60% while seat belts paired with an airbag resulted in an 84% decrease. There have been about 200-300 deaths resulting from the use of airbags over the last 20 years. However, these were mostly caused by the more forceful first generation of airbags.

The demographic at highest risk for air bag injury is children under 10 years old. However, there have been reports of death and injury in adults as well. During an impact, air bags release with a great amount of force which can be more dangerous than having no airbags at all. You should avoid having your seat positioned too closely to the dashboard where the airbags are located, especially for children. It is much better to seat your children in the back of the car.

By lexutor