General Motors has turned the "automotive safety cocoon" into a reality by rolling out a vehicle with the industry's first front center air bag.
The new GMC Acadia will feature air bags on both sides of the driver -- above and below the shoulder -- as well is in the front. With the new setup, drivers will essentially be surrounded by cushioning, GM said.
"This is significant," Russ Rader, vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told us. This setup "has real potential to save lives in side-impact crashes."
The new bag, which pops out of the right side of the driver's seat, specifically targets opposite-side crashes. For a driver, the real value is realized when the vehicle is struck on the right side. (For a passenger, it's when the vehicle is struck on the left side.)
In a side crash, the occupant's upper body is forced toward the window, where it rebounds off the side curtain air bag. During that rebound, the upper body bounces back toward the center of the vehicle. That can cause a neck injury or, worse, cause the driver to bang heads with the front seat passenger, who is moving in the opposite direction. With a front center air bag, the occupant's momentum toward the center of the vehicle is cushioned.
"Now, you're not going to fall too far over, and you won't hurt your neck," said Susan Eckel, vehicle chief engineer for the GMC Acadia and Denali. "And if you have a passenger, you won't hit heads."
The Acadia was a logical choice for the first center air bag, Eckel said. GM worked with the automotive supplier Takata Corp. on the bag's development. Optimizing the packaging, cushioning, and restraints took three years.