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Understanding The Airbag

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Understanding The Airbag

Pamela Hewitt
July 26, 2006

Ever since it was developed, the airbag has created a special role in the automotive industry in terms of features for car safety. According to some recent crash tests, airbags indeed can save a person’s life during vehicle collisions. Let us discuss more about airbags, find out how it works, and discover the benefits it could offer.

An airbag is a flexible, inflatable object that contains air or some other gas. It is also called the Air Cushion Restraint System (ACRS). Airbags can actually absorb the impact taken from a car crash by creating a cushion thus reducing the injuries of the vehicle’s occupants. The airbag system consists of three substantial parts: the airbag module, the crash sensor, and the diagnostic unit. Each part plays a significant role during a car crash. The airbag module is the one that contains the lightweight fabric that inflates during collision. Basically, there are two airbag modules located in a conventional vehicle like the new Lincoln Town Car, the driver airbag module and the passenger airbag module. The driver airbag module is located at the center of the steering wheel while the passenger module is dramatically placed at the instrument panel.

Because vehicles can have one or more crash sensors, they are located in different areas – either at the front of the vehicle near the bumper or in the passenger compartment area. The crash sensor works as a triggering device that measures the deceleration, which is the decreased velocity of a car or the rate in which the car slows down. The sensor is activated during the car crash which actually is the force that was generated in the front or rear of a car.

The last part of an airbag system, which is the diagnostic unit, acts as a condition sensor for the airbag. It measures the preparedness of the airbag in case of a car crash. The diagnostic unit activates when the car’s engine is turned on. It checks the airbag if it is in good condition and ready to use. If certain problem occurs, a warning light is activated and signals the driver that the airbag is malfunctioning and needs to be fixed.

During its peak of development, airbags only focus on frontal impacts. It cannot absorb impacts generated from the rear and side of a vehicle thus making it an ineffective safety device for rollovers and side impacts. However, with the latest trend in the automotive industry along with the new technological safety features, vehicles are now equipped with rear, side, and even curtain airbags to protect its occupants from injuries during car collisions. Who knows what other benefits and updates will airbags offer in the future?



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