The Airbag Wars

by JRO on May 21, 2013

In the rather short annals of the ubiquitous automobile, many wars have been waged in the interests of certain developments in the industry. At the beginning, it used to be over horsepower, then fuel economy and now in the name of all things, the number of airbags. Many cleverly composed magazine as well as television ads featuring automobiles frequently boasts about the number of airbags they provide in their cars as a highly competitive advantage and so reason enough to go out and buy them.

More Airbags do Not Mean More Safety

Here the evident allusion is that any car equipped with more airbags remains more secure than a car with fewer airbags. This signifies that an automobile having ten airbags has an edge on one that has only a mere six, in terms of safety. However, facts points to the contrary.

A car having six to eight airbags can secure the bodies of all occupants as carefully as one provided with 10. A long single head-protecting airbag placed on the side might provide the same coverage as three individual airbags.

Moreover, an airbag by itself cannot render a car safe. In fact, it is an intricate device that functions in tandem with an automobile’s metal body along with its seatbelts in order to safeguard the occupants. Airbags less in number, but superiorly designed, placed within the confines of a perfectly engineered car shell can function better than a plethora of airbags in cars that provide no protection of its own.

The Proof

The U.S. Government’s National Highway Traffic Administration in collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety made a study of the topic and their crash test results more than prove this fact. The study found that vehicles that are not equipped with side airbags do not earn a high rating in the side crash test. However, some vehicles had to be satisfied with a poor rating even in spite of the air bags. This signifies that although air bags are crucially important, they by themselves cannot guarantee passenger-safety.

Kinds of Airbags

Front airbags: In a frontal crash, front airbags emerge from the dashboard in order to protect both the driver as well as the front passenger. These bags are legally required on every car. Interestingly, early airbags caused injuries and also a few deaths even in minor accidents. This was because, to open quick enough to safeguard the occupants, they opened with sudden force, causing injuries, particularly to little children or passengers who were not sitting sufficiently back from the dashboard.

Learning from past mistakes, most cars are now equipped with airbags that open in various  ways, according to what the sensors perceive about the position or size of the individual present on the seat. In case the sensors notice a child, or the individual is leaning forward, the airbags tend to swing open slower or take on a much smaller size.

Side Airbags

Side airbags protect passengers from getting hit from the side. Statistics reveal that these are extremely successful. According to data provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, airbags, protecting the occupants from their shoulders or below, bring down fatalities caused by side impacts by as much as 26%. In the same way airbags that protect heads lessen fatalities by an incredible 37 %.

Leg Airbags

As lives are increasingly saved by front and side airbags, leg injuries caused by head-on crashes have been receiving added attention. Some cars are now fitted with airbags under the dashboard in order to secure the legs and knees of occupants. However, David Zuby, Vice President Vehicle Research, the Insurance Institute for Highway Security, is doubtful about the efficacy of leg airbags as there is a lack of evidence to confirm that they protect occupants from leg injuries.


Johnny Rocko is a freelance writer who concentrates his energies on legal topics such as Car Accidents, Personal Injury, Intellectual Property, Criminal Defense, Civil Procedure and other areas as well.




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