History of the airbag in cars

When a car crashes, the force required to stop an object is very great because the car's momentum has changed instantly while the passengers' has not -- there is not much time to work with. The goal of any supplemental restraint system is to help stop the passenger while doing as little damage to him or her as possible. What an airbag wants to do is to slow the passenger's speed to zero with little or no damage.

The constraints that it has to work within are huge.

Cushioning the Blow: History of Automotive Airbags

The airbag has the space between the passenger and the steering wheel or dashboard and a fraction of a second to work with. Even that tiny amount of space and time is valuable, however, if the system can slow the passenger evenly rather than forcing an abrupt halt to his or her motion.

How Seatbelts Work. How Crash Testing Works. Can a car really be death-proof? The deployed airbag inside the remains of an Enzo Ferrari.


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That's exactly what we will do. We will put a bomb in the car and it will save lives. They were right. Airbags are explosives and airbags save lives—but it's still a crazy idea. The original idea for the automotive airbag dates back to the early s. It wasn't exactly an explosive-powered device. It involved a compressed gas that would release to fill a type of bladder.

The History of a Pioneering Safety Technology

This design didn't work very well—it wasn't fast enough. It turns out the only way to get an airbag to inflate fast enough to be useful is with an explosive. OK, technically it's a chemical reaction that produces gas to fill the bag—but that's essentially an explosion. So, just how fast does the airbag need to inflate? Let's do a rough estimation to get the minimum inflation time.

A Short History of the Airbag

Here is the situation. It's a nice day for a picnic. Let's go on a picnic, shall we? I will bring some food and you can bring the blanket. Hop in the car and I will drive. Driving along and all of sudden—a deer in the road! Crash into a tree. The car was traveling only 35 miles per hour There is one other important thing to estimate, the distance from the driver to the steering wheel.

The trouble with momentum

I'll be generous and put this at a value of 0. Here is what happens. The human is traveling at The air bag has to deploy before the human collides with the stopped steering wheel. The first driver's side airbag was introduced in the UK in the late s, but such devices only became widely available when Ford began to fit them in More recently, passenger side airbags have become more commonplace.

While airbags have obvious benefits, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of injuries seen as a result of airbag deployment.


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The first case report of an airbag associated fatality in the UK was published in We undertook a review of the literature to determine the spectrum of injuries resulting from airbag fitment and deployment. Medline and Embase were searched using the WebSpirs interface. All relevant articles were retrieved and reviewed; other articles were found from references in these papers.

Where more than one case of an identical injury has been reported, only the first case has been included. During a motor vehicle crash, four collisions may occur 2 :. Third Between the occupants organs and the enclosing body wall or cavity skull, chest wall, etc. Deceleration forces are dependent on the deforming ability of the vehicle. Newer vehicles are produced with the evidence from crash research studies in mind, and are designed to deform extensively on impact. This is intended to result in a reduction in the forces applied to the occupants.

Airbags are intended to impact on the second collision, and are based on a simple concept: on frontal impact of the vehicle, a deflated balloon stored in the steering wheel or fascia is rapidly inflated under high pressure to protect the occupant. On the driver's side, this protection is from steering wheel impact. Other airbags provide protection against striking the dashboard or side panels. Once inflated, vents in the material of the bag permit immediate deflation. If the deceleration sensor is set too high, lower energy crashes that should result in deployment will be missed; similarly, if it is too sensitive the airbag will deploy in minor shunts.

Furthermore, the timing of the airbag must be adjusted so that it is inflated to its maximum as the occupant impacts onto it. If it inflates too soon, it will be deflated by the time the occupant strikes the wheel; too late, and the occupant will be in the inflation zone when the bag fires. Studies to date have almost exclusively concentrated on frontal impacts.

Lateral impacts generally produce sideways motion side airbags are increasingly common , and rear impact protection is afforded through seat back load deflection characteristics alongside head restraints. The mandatory wearing of seat belts in the UK has contributed to a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. The use of airbags is known to save lives 2, 7 and reduce the incidence of serious injury in non-fatal MVCs for example they have been shown to reduce the risk of severe facial injury, 8 and produce a one third reduction in serious injuries to the head J Lenard, et al, 16th International technical conference on the enhanced safety of vehicles, Windsor, Canada, Airbags are, however, designed to be used in conjunction with a properly fitted three point seatbelt, and the absence of such a restraint can permit otherwise preventable injuries.

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Injuries have been described resulting from all stages of airbag deployment, and all components of the system: from non-deployment, spontaneous deployment, the pyrotechnic used, expansion of the bag, contact with the bag, and over-rapid deflation. An all encompassing review of data from the ongoing UK Co-operative Crash Injury Study collecting data on all serious motor vehicle crashes since R Cuerden, et al, IRCOBI Conference, found that, for seat belted drivers in frontal impact crashes, the presence of a deployed airbag led to:.

How do airbags work? - Explain that Stuff

There is convincing evidence from both sides of the Atlantic that airbags provide excellent protection against serious injury. However, there is an increasing amount of data on injuries directly attributable to these devices. This suggested that although airbags doubtless do cause injury, such injuries must be viewed in the context of the more severe injuries that they prevent. For minor injuries AIS 1 , there were still more arm injuries in airbag fitted cars, but less head, neck, and leg injuries.

These data were similar to that produced by Lenard J Lenard, et al, 16th International technical conference on the enhanced safety of vehicles. There have been multiple reports of head and neck injuries related to airbags, mostly but not uniquely from the USA. Injuries include facial trauma, 8 temporomandibular joint injury, 13 decapitation, 14 and cervical spine fractures. Despite the many case reports and series discussing head and neck injuries arising from airbag deployment, it is important to remember that the head and neck are at very significant risk in a frontal impact, from contact with the steering wheel especially if a seat belt is worn.

Comparing airbag with no airbag showed a trend in these head injured patients to have more brain injuries and less skull fractures. This non-significant trend may represent airbags providing greater protection to the bony elements of the skull than the brain tissue. Multiple case reports can be found of injuries to the chest and abdomen. Once again, these injuries occur more commonly but not uniquely with the larger US systems.

Chest injuries include rib fractures, 27, 28 bilateral pneumothorax, 29 aortic transection, 30, 31 heart valve injury 32 and cardiac rupture. A whole range of injuries have been reported on both sides of the Atlantic, 37— 39 with the shoulder and forearm being the commonest sites in both airbag and no airbag crashes R Frampton, et al , IRCOBI conference. Some studies have suggested that the trend is actually the other way, with minor injuries being commonplace. Common sense would dictate that airbags would have no overall effect on the incidence and severity of leg injuries, and this seems to be borne out in the literature.

One paper described several cases of leg injury from crashes in airbag equipped cars, but made no attempt to ascribe these injuries to airbag deployment. Some groups have differing risks, particularly those of short stature, 47 and some congenital abnormalities 48 and this should be borne in mind when assessing crash victims for injury.

Evidence from the United States suggests that passenger airbags are associated with an increased risk of death in children.