In recent news, Toyota Motor Corp. recalled 308,000 vehicles to inspect possible airbag defects in certain 2007 and 2008 RAV4 and 2008 Highlander SUVs sold in the U.S.
With airbags in the news it seems like an ideal time to talk about airbags; how they work, and how they’ve affected automobile safety.
Airbag Safety Facts
Airbags are vehicle safety devices, which are meant to be a supplement to seatbelts (and not a replacement). Airbag safety was invented in the 1950s, but the commercial designs were not put into vehicles until the 1970s. Most major car companies started widely distributing airbags in the 80’s and 90’s with two front occupant airbags. Since 1998, airbags have been become a mandatory part of all vehicles.
There are two types of airbag safety; frontal airbags and side impact airbags. I found this diagram on Why Files that show how airbags work (http://whyfiles.org/032air_bag/how_work.html). Basically when your vehicle hits something, it triggers the airbag sensors. The sensors turn a switch activating the mechanics that deploy the airbag. The airbag inflates in 1/20th of a second, and then ideally the seat-belted occupant hits the fully inflated airbag. Airbags are more effective when you’re buckled up and seated at least 10” away.
Airbag injuries can occur when occupants hit the airbag as its inflating (because they are too close, or not buckled in properly). The speed it inflates can cause serious injuries in adults and can be fatal to children and infants. The best way to prevent child fatalities by airbags is to ensure that all child passengers are properly belted and placed in the back seat. The backseat is the safest place for children of any age, and infants riding in rear-facing child safety seats should never be placed in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger-side air bag.
Some vehicles have on/off switches for their front seat passenger airbag that can be used when transporting occupants who would be at risk for air-bag related injuries (such as children, elderly, or those with a medical condition). Newer vehicles now have advanced frontal airbags that a sensor that switches off the system when the occupant is out of position or leaning forward, and also does not allow the frontal airbag to inflate fully.
As auto safety technology increases, it will affect airbag safety as well. Just this year Ford Motor Company introduced the world’s first automotive rear inflatable seat belts. “Ford’s rear inflatable seat belt technology will enhance safety for rear seat passengers of all ages, especially for young children who are more vulnerable in crashes,” said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. “This is another unique family technology that builds on our safety leadership, including the most top safety ratings of any automaker.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, airbags are designed to be used with seatbelts, because by themselves airbags are only 12% effective at reducing deaths. So no matter what kind of airbag system your car has, buckle up first, and follow all the proper safety prevention for all your passengers.