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Unraveling the Shield of Safety: The Role of Airbags in Modern Vehicles

For years, cars have been equipped with airbags, working alongside safety features like seatbelts and ABS. Today, we delve into the world of “Airbags” to give you a comprehensive understanding of their function.

What are airbags? An airbag is an inflatable safety device made of stretchable nylon fabric, designed to protect car passengers during collisions by rapidly inflating upon impact, preventing them from hitting the vehicle’s interior and supplementing seatbelt safety.

Automotive airbags are typically positioned in the steering wheel, dashboard, and side panels. Folded and placed in strategic points within the car, airbags inflate upon receiving signals from car sensors. The airbag system relies on sensors positioned throughout the vehicle, mainly at the front and sides, to detect rapid changes in acceleration and force typical of a collision. When these sensors detect an impact force exceeding a predetermined threshold, they send an electrical signal to the airbag control unit (ACU). The ACU then activates the inflator for the specific airbag(s) involved in the crash. The inflator contains a chemical compound, such as sodium azide, which decomposes rapidly upon receiving the electrical signal. This decomposition generates a large amount of nitrogen gas at high pressure, inflating the nylon airbag within milliseconds. The inflated airbag acts as a cushion between the occupant and the car’s interior, absorbing impact force and reducing the risk of injuries from contact with hard surfaces. After the initial impact force is absorbed, the airbag begins to deflate through vents in the fabric, allowing the occupant to move freely after the collision.

Various types of airbags serve distinct purposes in enhancing occupant safety during collisions:

Frontal airbags are the most common and are typically embedded in the steering column for the driver and the dashboard for the front passenger. They rapidly inflate during frontal collisions, creating a cushion between the occupant’s head and chest and the car’s interior, thereby reducing the risk of head trauma and internal bleeding.

Side airbags, available in seat-mounted and curtain variations, provide additional protection in side-impact collisions and rollovers. Seat-mounted side airbags shield the occupant’s torso from impact with the door or intruding objects while curtain airbags extend down from the headliner along the sides of the car, protecting the heads and necks of all occupants, including those in the back seat.

Knee airbags, located below the dashboard, deploy during frontal collisions to protect the driver’s knees and legs from colliding with the lower part of the dashboard, reducing the risk of knee fractures and other leg injuries.

Additional airbag types include rear seat airbags. These are relatively new and are typically located in the backrests of the front seats. They protect rear passengers’ heads during frontal collisions, especially children in rear-facing car seats. Center airbags, positioned in the center of the front seat to prevent occupants from colliding with each other during side- impact collisions; and inflatable seat belts, equipped with built-in airbags that inflate during collisions to provide additional upper body and torso support, enhancing overall occupant protection.

Initially, front airbags were standard, followed by side airbags, both of which have significantly reduced fatalities. Frontal airbags have shown a 29% decrease in driver fatalities and a 32% decrease in front-seat passenger fatalities.

But airbags are only effective if individuals follow the right rules and measures as follows: Airbags are not substitutes for seat belts but work together to enhance occupant safety during accidents. Additionally, airbags for both front seats are mandatory in vehicles manufactured on and after April 1, 2021. Airbags significantly reduce fatality risks in accidents, but adherence to safety guidelines is crucial for their optimal effectiveness.