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In a recent meeting with the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari discussed how vehicle safety standards are in need for improvement. Gadkari urges automakers to offer at least 6 airbags across all models regardless of lower-priced options.
Vehicles in India are changing drastically as of late. It used to be that most top-of-the-line vehicles had six airbags, but now, the new requirement is for every car sold after 31 August 2021 will need at least two airbags installed.
On that note, who invented the airbags?
The airbag for automobile use is credited to the American John W. Hetrick, who filed an application in 1952 and was granted a patent that year. German engineer Walter Linderer had also submitted his own design but it came too late to be patented before Hetrick's work went public. Both patents were based on compressed-air systems; either released by spring or bumper contact with both designs stemming from 1951 applications.
What is an Airbag?
Airbags are supplemental restraint devices (SRDs) that provide front seat occupants protection from injury in the event of a frontal or side collision. They inflate with gas to cushion and protect the occupant during impact, then deflate quickly after deployment. Airbags can be found in both the driver's side and passenger's side of your vehicle and are designed to inflate in less than 1/20 of a second. Airbag only collisions can cause serious or fatal injuries.
Airbags, also called an inflatable restraint systems (IRS), are not the same as front seat belts and cannot provide protection by themselves. Frontal collisions, side impact crashes, roll-over accidents and collisions with an object are all situations where airbags will provide protection.
Airbag operation depends on the correct functioning of the seat belt, vehicle sensor systems, electronics and your diligence in properly using your seat belts. An airbag must be replaced after any collision that causes damage to the airbag or when a deploying airbag can no longer function.
How do airbags work?
An airbag is a sack full of gas that inflates with great force when triggered by an electronic mechanism. It will inflate more than 1000 times faster than household items such as a balloon. Airbags are designed to protect the head, neck and body in a collision. The idea is that in a collision, the airbag will inflate as quickly as possible and cushion the impact.
Airbags are designed to protect occupants even if they are not wearing seatbelts. Airbags can reduce injuries by up to 80% but you should still wear a seatbelt even with an airbag fitted because no system is 100% effective.
For example, if you're driving at 50kph when an 35-kilogram deer jumps out in front of your car, your seatbelt can't stop you from hitting the deer. The car will crash into it with a force equal to:
600 kilograms force (kgf) acting on the car 50kph x 12 feet / second²
A driver wearing a seatbelt in this situation would typically collide with the steering wheel and hit the dashboard, suffering severe injuries.
Airbags help prevent this by providing a cushion of air to slow down the driver in case of a collision with another car or with an object that otherwise would have caused serious injury.
When the crash sensor in your car detects that you've been in an accident, it sends a signal to an airbag that causes it to inflate within a fraction of a second. The force of the airbag has been carefully calibrated to help decrease the level of force resulting from a collision, and can be set to deploy at different times depending on your particular car's make and model.
If you've ever seen an old movie where someone jumps into a vehicle with a very hard landing, you might have noticed the driver's airbag deploy. That's because the force of someone jumping on to the car triggered it.
Types of airbags?
There are two major types of airbags: front-impact, and side-impact. Front impact airbags are found in the steering wheel, dashboard, and between the seats. Side impact airbags protect occupants by inflating on both sides of the vehicle around the head and torso. An additional feature is curtain airbags which deploy at the side of the car.
How does an airbag know when to deploy?
Airbag deployment sensors are located at strategic locations in the vehicle and detect impacts using infrared sensors or accelerometers. The crash sensor system located in the front of the vehicle is made up of two separate sensors, a weight-based inflator and a crash severity sensor. The sensing system uses either weight change from an occupant being seated on the seat (weight-based) or force change due to deceleration during impact (crash severity) to trigger airbag deployment.
Airbags are designed to inflate based on the severity of the crash detected by these sensors and are calibrated so that they deploy at a pressure level which will protect drivers from major injuries in serious crashes. If an occupant is out-of-position or unrestrained, the risk of being injured may be much higher.
At what speeds do airbags deploy?
The deployment sensor dictates the airbag speed. The sensors all have a threshold based upon changes in crash severity. For example, if the sensors sense a "severe" crash then the airbags deploy at their full speed. A "mild" crash triggers a slower deployment and so on.
Some people have claimed to be able to deactivate the sensor by hacking into the ECU and then 'faking out' the crash sensors into deploying using an explosive. We have yet to hear of one case of someone successfully deploying an airbag.
The fastest that an airbag has ever been recorded to deploy is 1/1000 of a second. This is quick enough to save your life! The bags will deflate after deployment but not right away - as you are pushed away from them they still pose a danger until they completely deflate.
What happens when airbags deploy?
The first thing that you will notice is a very loud bang as the bags deploy. Depending on the manufacturer, this may or may not occur with a bright flash of light and release of smoke.
The main goal of an airbag is to push you away from the steering wheel. This means that, depending on your height and distance from the steering wheel, either you will be pushed into your seat or propelling yourself out of the vehicle altogether! If you are sitting too close to the wheel or there is not enough room between you and it then an airbag could hit you in the neck and cause serious injury.
The airbag itself is made up of a series of smaller bags. Each one has its own function, such as inflating to cushion the driver's head or deploying at different speeds according to how close it is to you. When inflated these bags will fill the space above you with a cloud of fine particles from which you could suffer from respiratory damage.
Can you still drive a car if the airbags deploy?
Yes, but that could be extremely dangerous. The airbags must not deploy while you are driving because the sudden change in pressure could cause you to lose control of your vehicle and crash.
If your airbags have deployed, you should see a warning light in the instrument panel and on some vehicles, there will be an icon with an exclamation point. ...but be aware that the warning light may not come on, and some vehicles do not have a way for you to know if an airbag has deployed in a crash. If your airbags deploy, get out of your vehicle as quickly as you can.
What are airbags made of?
Airbag modules are designed to inflate bags made of a rubber-based material called nitrocellulose, which is the same material that's used for film projection. The airbags have a nylon cover and an inner bag made of multiple layers of cotton fabric enclosing isotropic polyester fiber filling up to 5 kg in front of the passenger. The bag is folded and sewn with a zipper to ensure even distribution of pressure when it inflates.
The airbag module has two gas generators, which are controlled by the crash sensor system located in the front of the vehicle. One gas generator inflates an airbag in frontal crashes and another one inflates them during side impact. Each gas generator is designed to inflate only one or two airbags in a crash, which ensures that the risk of an occupant being injured by deploying deflated bags is minimized.
What is the minimum speed for airbag deployment?
It's the impact that triggers airbag deployment, not the velocity of the vehicle.
Airbag installation costs?
Airbag installation costs vary from Rs 30,000 to Rs 80,000 or more, depending upon the car model and other factors.
Are airbags dangerous?
Airbags are designed to save lives but they can be deadly in certain circumstances. The first thing that you hear about when it comes to airbags is the danger of deploying too fast and causing injury or even death as a result. This has been known to happen to small children, the elderly and people who are too close to the steering wheel.
For this reason, some car manufacturers have taken steps to reduce the speed in which airbags deploy when it senses an infant in the front seat. There have also been cases of adult drivers being killed as a result of having their neck too close to the steering wheel. This is due to airbags expanding outwards and hitting with great force.
Another danger that comes from deploying an airbag is rupture of the gas-generator. The explosion itself poses very little danger but the pieces of shrapnel can be deadly. The most common source of injury is from the metal that is used to hold the airbag in place either inside the steering wheel or on its mounting bracket.
YOU'RE 75% LESS LIKELY TO BE KILLED BY A DEPLOYING AIRBAG THAN YOU ARE BY DRIVING BAREFOOT!
Top Airbag manufacturers
According to our research, these companies are the biggest manufacturers of Airbags: Takata Corporation, Autoliv and TRW. At least one from this group has manufactured every single airbag that's ever been produced. This also includes the three major automotive companies in Japan: Toyota, Nissan, and Honda.
Airbags are generally not designed or manufactured by the automotive company. The airbags are usually made by one of the big 3, who then sell them to automakers. Then Automakers integrate these airbags with their cars.
Jobo's Corner: My goal is to help educate our readers on how to keep them safe and have a sense of confidence when getting in their vehicle. I understand that accidents do happen, but it's how you respond in those situations that will determine what happens next.
We want to help our readers reach their ultimate goal of safety and security on the road for themselves and their family. This is why I am here to help answer all your questions and concerns.
Executive Editor, DriveSpark