Airbags: what is important to know

Airbags: what is important to know

For about a few decades car manufacturers have been actively working on reducing the probability of serious injuries in car crashes. One of the best solutions in this sphere is airbags which are responsible for millions of saved lives. According to the USA Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, airbags are capable of reducing probability of lethal outcome by third, and sometimes by half. However, they can be dangerous when improperly used. Here we tell you how airbags work, how to use them, and in which cases they should be disabled.

 8 interesting facts about airbags 

  1. The first patents on airbags were sealed simultaneously by Walter Linderer from Germany and John Hetrik from the USA in 1951. The devices they designed used сompressed air for inflation. Due to extremely slow activation and, thus, underperformance, the novelty didn’t become widespread.
  2. In 1963, the Japanese Yasuzaburou Kobori offered using a propellant charge for inflation of the bag, instead of compressed air. But due to fire safety laws in Japan, Kobori’s solution encountered many limitations, that is why the further researches in this field were stopped.
  3. In 1968 an inventor Allen Breed presented the first airbag impact sensor providing automatic deployment of the system.
  4. The first mass production car equipped with a front airbag was American Oldsmobile Toronado 1973. In Europe the innovation was introduced in Mercedes-Benz S-Class saloon model in 1980.
  5. At different times, many famous car manufacturers were developing this technology:
    • In 1994 the Volvo company started installing side airbags on their cars. These airbags are aimed at protecting a pelvis, chest and abdomen, also preventing ingress of sharp objects into the passenger compartment.
    • In 1996 a Korean car manufacturer KIA started to use knee airbags designed to reduce loads on lower body parts.
    • In 1998 Toyota and Volvo offered special curtains preventing head injuries in case of side impacts and rollover accidents. Apart from their main functions, the devices created by the companies prevented ingress of shattered glass inside the car and ejection of passengers.
    • In 2009 Toyota presented another solution – a central airbag. Its function is to protect the driver and passengers from secondary injuries, caused, for instance, by hitting one another.
    • In 2012 Volvo started to take care about pedestrians by installing an inflatable device under the bonnet.
    • The same 2012, in Europe, the Ford company presented safety belts with in-built inflatable elements. They provide more uniform impact force distribution, which also reduces probability of severe injuries, especially for kids.
  6. Today the maximum quantity of inflatable devices in a car can reach 14.
Today the maximum quantity of inflatable devices in a car can reach 14
  1. The bag of the device remains folded for a long time. In order to prevent the folds from sticking together, the manufacturers use talc or starch as a lubricant: It is these substances that can be seen in the passenger compartment after system deployment.
  2. Usually, full deployment of an airbag takes from 0.01 to 0.05 seconds. A man needs more time to blink: averagely, one blink takes 0.05 seconds.

 9 tips from AUTODOC on proper use of airbags 

  1. Always use seat belts. The airbag is not their replacement, but a supplement only. During its deployment it moves towards a person at 300 km/h speed. You can sustain a serious injury if you did not fasten your seat belt.
  2. Adjust the seat. The distance between the driver and the steering wheel centre should be at least 25 cm. For this end, you should move the seat backwards or incline its backrest. Owners of previous generations cars, the seats of which are not equipped with a wide range of adjustments, can use special pedal extensions for more comfortable driving.
Adjust the seat
  1. Make sure your posture is correct. Drivers and passengers should be seated in the centre of the seat vertically, leaning against the backrest. The feet should be placed on the floor. One cannot lean on an airbag: the high intensity of inflation and hot gases can cause injuries. Moreover, it is prohibited to lean against a window, especially for kids.
  2. Take care that there are no obstacles on the airbag deployment path. Refuse from seat covers: they can fully or partially impair the side airbags operation. Do not store heavy or sharp objects in door compartments: they may cause an injury in case of system deployment. It is prohibited to hold a bag or other objects on the knees for the same reason.
  3. Do not install a child seat on the front seat. It is recommended to transport children under 12 on rear seats. Moreover, it is mandatory in some countries. If you need to mount a child seat on the front seat, move the latter backwards as far as it will go, and disable the system if necessary. In most modern cars its disablement is automatic.
Do not install a child seat on the front seat
  1. Pregnant women in the last trimester should not refuse to use the technology. Despite the high risk of fetus injury by the inflatable device, consequences of hitting against the steering column are usually more serious. That is why properly adjusted and fastened seat belts ensure the highest safety level together with activated airbags. However, it is better to refuse car trips in the late stages of pregnancy, especially behind the steering wheel.
  2. Stop smoking behind the wheel. A pipe or electronic cigarette is not only a distracting factor, but also a very high risk to get a fatal injury when the airbag deploys.
Stop smoking behind the wheel
  1. Maintain the system’s operability. The corresponding dashboard warning light indicates the good working order of the system. It goes on when the ignition is switched on, and goes off in 5-6 seconds. If the warning light is constantly on or flashes from time to time during driving, you should visit a car service station for detailed diagnostics.
  2. Never remove the cover and perform repair works in the area where the inflatable devices are located, without disconnecting the battery in advance. Only disconnecting the power supply will protect you from sudden airbag deployment.
Disconnecting the battery


No doubts, airbags are one of the best technological solutions protecting the driver and passengers from injuries in case of an accident. However, despite the obvious advantage, they are fraught with a certain danger, that is why they require strict adherence to some operation rules. Keeping to them, together with using other passive and active safety systems, you will be able to protect yourself and your passengers from various unforeseen situations on the road.

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