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All About Airbags


The Story of the Airbag

This article is the latest in our series on safety. Check out our previous article on the history of vehicle safety and safety tips as well as our guide on seat belts.

 

Airbags are a built-in part of every modern car and for good reason. According to a study by the NHTSA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, front airbags have been shown to reduce driver fatalities in collisions by around 30%, with side airbags reducing the risk of death by 37-52% depending on the car. It’s hard to imagine a world without mandatory airbags today, but it hasn’t always been this way.


In this article:


Airbags in Cars: A History

The first basic airbags started being patented in the early 1950s; however, it took until 1971 before commercial car companies started to adopt the technology. It was then that Ford developed their first airbags and only two years after in 1973 that General Motors started installing airbags into Chevrolet Impalas, strictly for government use.

 

Between 1975-1977, General Motors attempted to bring airbags to the consumer, with a driver-side option offered in Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and Cadillacs. By 1977 they had discontinued them, citing a lack of consumer interest.

 

In the years following, Ford and GM both lobbied against airbag requirements, considering the technology to be cost-ineffective. It was Mercedes Benz that brought the airbag back to the mainstream, and once they demonstrated the commercial value of the technology, other manufacturers followed suit. By 1998, airbags were a requirement in all new cars manufactured in the US. 


How Do Airbags Work?

Here’s some information on the steps and processes that take place when airbags are deployed.

 

  • Airbag deployment is monitored by sensors that pick up on crashes and their severity. When a crash occurs the system then triggers the inflation process. The mechanism then produces large volumes of gas that inflates the bag.
  • When the bag inflates it breaks through the covers on the wheel, dashboard, or any other part of the car where it may be installed.
  • With front-installed airbags, the driver or passenger’s head and upper body jolt forward, striking the inflated bag, which then starts to deflate through vent holes, cushioning the occupant’s head and slowing down momentum.
  • The entire inflation and deflation process takes only around 1 tenth of a second, so fast that the person in the car may not even realize what’s happened.

How to Maintain Airbags

Taking care of airbags isn’t the first priority of most car-owners, but it’s only wise to keep them in check. They could save your life one day.

 

Monitor Your Indicators:

There should be a cluster of instrument symbols around your speedometer, if your airbag symbol has gone dark then there could be something wrong with it.

 

Keep Your Batteries Charged:

Airbags are generally powered by electricity, so insufficient battery power could prove to be very dangerous.

 

Leave the Electrics Be:

You may be a handyman or woman, but don’t mess with your car’s electrics. If you have a problem, take it to a professional.

Airbag Laws in Canada

Airbags are not, in fact, a requirement by law for manufacturing or usage in Canada, but they are still strongly recommended by all relevant parties. Seatbelts, however, are required by law, and evidence shows that the combination of seatbelts and airbags reduces the risk of serious head injury by 75%. While there’s nothing illegal about not using an airbag, it’s just bad sense, so our advice would be to always keep it activated on the go.

John Framigllia
Technical Writer
Our technical writer is known for simplifying automotive parts and services. Intuitive with various vehicles and manufacturers, he knows how to simplify complicated problems.