Airbags are standard in modern cars. They protect the driver, front passenger, rear seat passengers and now even pedestrians in a variety of ways. How it works
The German engineer Walter Linderer invented the airbag back in the 1950s, but his idea was not particularly successful. The detection of when the airbag should trigger was too imprecise, the inflation - usually done by pyrotechnic gas generators - was too rough. It was only twenty years later that the airbag began to triumph. In 1974 GM offered it for the first time, six years later also Mercedes. In the S-Class, and only at an additional cost. A large number of airbags are now standard in modern cars.
There are different types of airbags
In addition to the front airbags, which inflate in front of the driver and front passenger, side and head airbags are particularly widespread. The former usually sit in the doors or even in the seats, trigger quite brutally and thereby additionally push the passenger into the interior of the car and out of the danger area of a side impact. While the side airbag mainly protects the chest area, the head airbag, as the name suggests, is supposed to protect the head from a hard impact. The most widespread here is the so-called curtain airbag, which covers the entire window - both at the front and at the back. Both have been available since the mid and late 90s and can now be found in most cars.
But that's not all: Resourceful developers have identified other weaknesses. For example the dashboard, which protrudes much further into the interior on the driver's side than on the front passenger. To prevent the dashboard from crushing the driver's legs in a frontal crash, some manufacturers use what is known as a knee airbag. Another challenge: protecting the rear passengers, who are usually only protected by the curtain airbag. Air bags that come out of the backrests of the front seats have not yet existed. Until now: Mercedes is now using it in the new S-Class. The Swabians brought the seat belt airbag to the rear a generation earlier: a system that inflates the multi-layer belt strap and thus reduces the pressure of the belt on the chest in the event of an impact. Also at Ford this technology is currently in use.
Will there soon be an airbag between the driver and front passenger?
On the other hand, an airbag that is mounted in the center console and unfolds between the driver and front passenger is still a long way off. In this way, passengers should be given additional protection in the event of a side crash. The side airbag that ZF is currently developing has the same idea. It is not in the car, but outside, and thus serves as an air cushion between the two cars involved in the accident. As a result, the supplier promises a 40 percent reduction in the consequences of accidents; however, the system is not yet ready for series production.
Speaking of outside: Protection isn't just for the inmates. Volvo introduced a windshield airbag years ago, which comes out between the window and the bonnet in the event of an accident with a pedestrian and is intended to soften the impact of the pedestrian on the hard glass.