Automakers, at one time, balked at the idea of an airbag mandate, claiming they were too expensive and would do little to improve safety. Today, airbags come standard, and are even seen in seatbelts, center consoles, and backseats.
The entry-level Chevy Cruze, for example, now offers 10 standard airbags, including front, side, knee and head curtain, as well as outboard, rear-seat, side-impact bags. The automaker's 2012 Sonic also has 10 airbags, including dual-stage bags for the driver and front passenger, roof-rail-mounted head curtain bags, and seat-mounted side impact bags. It also includes knee bags for the driver and front passenger.
Click on the photo below to see a gallery of how other automakers are employing airbags in their vehicles:
Ford's inflatable seatbelts are designed to spread crash forces over five times more area of the body than conventional seatbelts. Used for rear-seat occupants, the inflatable belts help reduce pressure on the chest, and help control head and neck motion. (Source: Ford Motor Co.)
Al: There is a lot of effort to move some of the crash testing to simulation as opposed to physical crash tests. Not that physical crash testing will be wholly eliminated. But it is expensive and it does wreck a car every time you do it. The idea is to use simulation to do repeated testing during the design optimization stage when evolving the air bag design and positioning, the crumple zone, etc. Once the design is optimized and tested in the virtual world of simulation, traditional physical testing is then employed to validate the design and do final safety evaluation.
As part of the move to enable virtual crash tests, there is also work underway to create virtualized crash test dummies, in all shapes and sizes and to accommodate different ethnicities. With more valid human crash test dummy models, you can do more valid crash testing.
A friend of mine who rebuilds automobiles said they are about $500 a bag to replace and they are dealer only part. The control module for these, usually under driver seat has to be reset by the dealership on genises system if bags where deployed.
Bags are inflated with a chemical reaction. My understanding is that compressed air was too slow.
I've never been in an accident where airbags have deployed, but I have seen them in salvage yards after deployment, and in the classroom in their undeployed state.
In 1989, I took a GM training course on SIRs (Supplemental Inflatable Restraints). I learned a lot, and at that time, GM was using solid rocket fuel contained in a wafer-shaped disc about 3" in diameter and 1/2" thick for the driver's airbag in the steering wheel.
Several asked the instructor if one could be deployed, but we were denied repeatedly. Apparently the sound and mess was not something they wanted inside the classroom or training center, which was understandable. They did show us some videos, however...
I wonder what type of fuel is in the airbags of today.
It is amazing the amount of technology packed into today's cars. While I'm in favor of protecting lives, I don't believe that it's the government's job to enforce what safety devices an automobile must have. I for one would be more than happy to wear a 5-point racing harness instead of a typical shoulder/lap belt with all the airbags. If it's good for race cars to use a 5-point harness, why not for road use at much slower speeds? I would even be wiling to wear an open face helmet which attaches to the seat to protect my neck in case of an accident. The cost of all the airbags is astronomical (as added to the cost of the car purchase price), the added weight to the car robs fuel efficiency and cabin/cargo space, the increased system complexity affects reliably and service costs, malfunctioning airbag can cause injuries, and there is no guarantee that all systems are functioning properly each time I get in the car. US is supposed to be a free country where people can make their own decisions, not shoved something down the throats. Give the car makers freedom to build what the consumers want. I for one, want a small, light, simple, fuel efficient enclosed trike for commuting with a racing harness, not a 3 ton SUV with thousands of dollars in airbags, rear view cameras, proximity sensors, lane keeping sensors, ABS, traction control, tire pressure sensors, and countless other needless gadgets that make cars prohibitively expensive.
I worked in the airbag industry for years and was in charge of laser fabric cutting equipment as well as brining in the sewing and module assembly equipment for the late 90s Dodge trucks and other Chrysler vehicles.
the inflators use a small amount of rocket fuel that heats a cylinder of compressed inert gas. This inert gas expands rapidly and a disc is ruptured filling the bag. This minimizes the amount of explosive used in the inflator.
The inflation rate and amount is determined by measuring the impact impulse produced by the cars. Small cars like the Suzuki Samurai at the time had large impulses and required fast, aggressive inflators while the big dodge trucks were softer.
We had to track every part with bar codes, every nut and every rivet and rivet head. Rivets and heads were counted electronically. One time we came up short on one rivet and unloaded and scanned and disassembled an entire truckload to finally find the one rivet folded up in a bag.
The standing dark joke at our company was a riddle "Know what they call a missing rivet on an air bag?" Answer: " A bullet through the head".
We manufactured what I called "pillowcases inflated by hand grenades"
Video of rivets tearing through crash dummies' heads' was always enlightening.
Chuck, thanks for the input. I've been told by the materials manufacturers that newer materials are at least as crash-resistant as metals, and the data I've seen supports that. But it's good to know from the automotive design end of things that that's indeed the case. The second thing I was wondering was if the reduced volume from the earlier metal vehicles meant there needs to be more airbags, which it sounds like you are implying. Is that the case, even though newer vehicles have been redesigned to handle structural loads better?
Airbags have always been obsolete. It is not just that they are dangerously explosive and expensive, but that they don't work as well as permanent passive devices. Permanent harness or padded restraints not only are cheaper, but work multiple times, and don't have any of the dangers, such at knocking the driver off the steering wheel. A padded frontal restraint could be lowered each time you get into the vehicle, just like on an amusement park ride. That would not only save millions in costs, but tens of thousands of lives. Each seat should have its own padded permanent retraints. It is a matter of time before the public realizes how dangerous air bags really are.
When I was on the extrication team on my Fire Department we had an opportunity to sit in a vehicle model and have an airbag inflated in our faces. There is no mental method to properly prepare you for the inflation! Seat Belts and Air Bags have made vehicle crashes much more survivable, if only people would use them. Inadvertant deployment of air-bags was and remains a significant danger to Fire Department personnel. Imagine an air-bag inflating while a Fireman is leaning across the passenger seat trying to assist in extricating the driver! Self driving/accident avoiding cars cannot replace a well trained, dilligent driver. An accident, as defined as an unavoidable occurace, very seldom happens. Automobile crashes are mostly caused by driver inattention and poor judgement. A periodic review by drivers of Newton's laws of motion should be mandatory. Thank you, and good night!
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.