How Do Airbags Protect You

Frankly, modern technology has enhanced automobility. With the new safety technology of airbag systems, there is a greater chance of survival in motor accidents.

But, how do airbags protect you? The airbags have helped in reducing the number of deaths and injuries.

According to research conducted in the USA, head-protecting airbags reduce deaths by 40% in the event of a side crash.

Luckily, more inventions have reduced the risks of toxic airbag inflators like sodium azide. Sodium azide used in earlier vehicles produces a toxic gas after ignition. This always harmed already traumatized car occupants.

Sodium azide absorbs moisture quickly in case of airbag leakage. If the chemical is ignited with moisture, it can undergo violent explosion. The rupturing of the airbag increased the shock by injuring the passengers.

Nowadays, the toxic sodium azide is replaced with guanidine nitrate, which is safer.  The electrical components have been improved too.

Despite the safety assurance and the confidence behind the wheel, you’d like to understand the science behind airbag systems.

Let’s learn how airbags protect you in a car crash.

Airbag System Components and their Functions
Deployed airbag

Airbag System Components and their Functions

Airbag systems have several components that work to protect the car occupants. Usually, there are electrical and mechanical components.

  • The sensors

The airbag system relies on frontal sensors, wheel speed sensors, brake pressure sensors, and seat occupant sensors.

Modern cars are equipped with Micro electromechanical sensors (MEMS). The sensors are more advanced with a suspended mass between capacitive plates that move forward to close the circuit in the event of a crash.

Luckily, the sensors cannot activate the airbag with standard braking. They are designed to sense a crash at a specific car speed.

The wheel speed sensors, brake sensors, and seat occupant sensors send signals to the electronic control unit (ECU).

  • Electronic Control Unit

The electronic control unit monitors the frontal sensors, the wheel speed, and the brake sensors to determine the deceleration rate. This device is responsible for activating the airbag.

  • The Heating Element

A heating element relies on electric impulses from the ECU. Once activated, it ignites the inflator compound at around 300 degrees.

The element ignites the inflator within two milliseconds. It’s designed to work faster than the crash to offer safety.

  • Inflator

In modern cars, Guanidine nitrate is mainly used. Once this compound is ignited at around 300 degrees, it immediately decomposes.

The decomposition process releases nitrogen or argon gas that fills the bag within 30 milliseconds.

  • The bag

The bag is made of nylon material. It’s coated with chalky substances like talcum powder to unwrap quickly.

Once the bag is filled with the gas, it offers cushioning to absorb shock. Usually, the passengers are thrown forward in the event of an impact.

Immediately it offers cushioning; the gas escapes through small holes on the edges. This process happens within 30 milliseconds.

Read: Will gasoline damage clear coat?

How Do Airbags Protect You in a Crash?

How Do Airbags Protect You in a Crash?

When the car hits an object, its speed starts to decrease. An electronic control unit detects the speed change by monitoring the frontal, brake pressure, and wheel speed sensors.

Once the ECU determines it’s a crash, it triggers the airbag circuit. The heating element ignites the chemical explosive, which decomposes within 2 milliseconds.

The chemical explosive generates massive gas to fill the nylon bag. Once filled, the bag protrudes to offer cushioning to the car occupants.

The chalky substance enhances the smooth unwrapping of the bag once it starts to inflate. Afterward, the gas escapes through small holes at the bag edges.

Read: Car vibrates when idle and ac is on

What Injuries Do Airbags Cause?

Types of Airbags used in Modern cars

Various types of airbags are used in modern cars to enhance safety. Take a look at different types of airbags you may find in a vehicle;

  • Frontal Airbags

Frontal airbags are usually located around the dashboard and in the steering wheel. The steering wheel airbag offers cushioning to the driver to protect the head and the chest from impact.

The dashboard airbags protect the front passenger’s chest and head. However, the frontal airbags don’t protect passengers from the side or rear impacts.

  • Side Airbags

Side airbags deploy from the side of the vehicle to protect occupants from side impact. Side crashes often occur when the car veers off the road and crashes on side objects like poles.

  • Curtain Airbags

Like the side airbags, curtain airbags are activated in the event of a side crash. They deploy from the door rail top above the windows.

Curtain airbags offer cushioning between the driver or front passenger’s head and the window.

  • Knee Airbags

Knee airbags are located below the steering wheel on the lower part of the dashboard. They create cushioning to the driver and front passenger knees in the event of a front impact.

Read: Types of airbag sensors

FAQs on Car Airbags

What Injuries Do Airbags Cause?

Although airbags are a great innovation to save lives, several injuries have been recorded concerning them.

The speed at which they deploy and the impact to the car occupants often causes;

Fingers and wrist sprains.
Eye injuries
Internal bleeding
Rib fractures
Spine and neck injuries
Bruising on the face
Injures liver and lungs

How Does It Feel to Get Hit By an Airbag?

Considering the speed at which the bag inflates and deploys, it’s likely to be painful. A sudden tight hug from your seat belt and impact on your face and chest feel like you’ve been kicked.

Usually, the impact from the airbags causes minor injuries and confusion. But not as severe as hitting the steering wheel or the dashboard with your head.

Can You Be Killed By an Airbag?

Some of the injuries caused by airbags can result in death. Luckily, second and third-generation airbags are de-powered to minimize the impacts.

Unlike the impacts, a deploying air bag explosion can result in trauma and later deaths.

Are Airbags Safer Than Seatbelts?

It’s advisable always to wear a seat belt while in the car. A study revealed that seat belts offer 48% effectiveness while airbags provide 14%.

If combined, they can offer excellent safety. Frankly, airbags protect you despite having their drawbacks. 

Read: Car seat head support safety

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