Q: What are Air Bags?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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Airbags are a type of car safety device. An airbag consists of a flexible cushion that inflates rapidly in the event of a collision. The purpose of an airbag is to protect the occupants of a vehicle in the case of a crash. Cars may contain several airbags in frontal and side locations. Sensors in the vehicle may deploy one or multiple airbags in zones in the vehicle at various rates, depending on the angle, severity and type of impact. Airbags are usually designed with the goal of providing supplemental protection to an occupant who is restrained by the car's seatbelt. Most airbags can be operated only once.

The first commercial airbag designs were introduced in the 1970s, but the broad use of airbags did not begin until the late 1980s. Different terms have been used for airbags over the years. When airbags were first introduced, they were known as "air cushion restraint systems."

When airbags were first introduced, the use of seat belts was not mandated by law and remained quite low. Initially, airbags were considered a potential replacement for seat belts. As the use of seat belts became mandated by law, airbags became designated as supplemental restraint systems. Airbags were first introduced as car options by Mercedes-Benz in 1981. The system involved an integrated airbag and seat belt restraint system. Porsche introduced the first vehicle to feature both passenger and driver airbags as standard equipment in 1987. All vehicles sold in the United States since 1998 have been required to include front airbags for both the driver and front passenger, and as the years progress, U.S. airbag requirements have broadened.

Airbags are considered passive devices because you are not required to activate the airbag in order to use it. Currently, four kinds of airbags are available in U.S. cars: front airbags, side-impact airbags, knee airbags and side-curtain airbags. The side-curtain airbag deploys to provide protection to the head in a side-impact collision. The side-curtain airbag is comprised of an inflatable curtain that deploys from the car's headliner and covers the windows along the side of the vehicle. This type of airbag remains deployed in a rollover and does not deflate. A side-impact airbag deploys from the door or the seat and provides protection to your torso, particularly in "T-bone" crashes when a vehicle crashes into the side of your vehicle.

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