Airbags are a standard vehicle safety feature that act as a restraint in the event of an accident. An impact event will trigger the cushions, which inflate with gas and protect the driver and passengers. Airbags are located in the steering wheel, doors, seats, dashboard and roof of a vehicle.
The first basic airbag patents were filed in 1951 by an American, John Hedrik, and a German, Walter Linderer. Hedrik’s idea for a “safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles” was approved and received its patent in 1953. Linderer’s invention involved the release of compressed air into a safety cushion that was triggered by either the driver or by an impact with another car or object. This idea was approved and patented in Germany in the 1960s although it was later found to be ineffective due to the compressed air system not filling the bag quickly enough.
Introduction of Airbags
Ford was the first American car company to introduce an airbag system in 1971. General Motors tested airbags in 1973 but retricted their use to government Chevrolet models. That same year, the Oldsmobile Toronado was released with a passenger-side airbag. In 1975 and 1976, full-sized Buick and Oldsmobile vehicles offered a driver’s side airbag as an optional feature. During those same two years, Cadillac competed strongly in safety by providing airbags for both drivers and passengers. The airbag systems available at that time eventually came under fire for being poorly designed and causing fatalities.
Airbags were not an option again until the 1984 Ford Tempo came on the market with the Chrysler Corporation offering them as standard equipment by 1988. The TRW company started building gas-inflated airbags in the mid-1990s. In 1998, the federal government made airbags mandatory safety equipment on all vehicles.
Airbags come in two different types. Front airbags operate with a sophisticated group of sensors that can determine the appropriate level of inflating power. The sensors detect driver and passenger size, the position of the seats, whether there are seatbelts in use and the intensity of impact.
Side airbags are designed to provide protection to the chest and head of drivers and passengers in the event of a severe side collision. These airbags come in three different types. The first type targets the chest and torso of a person while the second type protects the head and neck. The third type is a combination bag that shields both the head and the chest areas.
Airbag Safety Statistics
In 2013, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that nearly 40,000 lives were saved by airbags in frontal impact accidents. More specifically, driver deaths were reduced by 29 percent while passenger fatalities for those over age 13 were lowered by 30 percent. In addition, the chances of suffering a head injury during a collison were reduced by 85 percent through the use of airbags.
The airbag is an innovative device that changed the automotive experience and will continue to save lives for generations to come.