Why exactly were airbags invented? In 1952 John Hetrick suffered a crash in Pennsylvania after avoiding a deer and collided with a large rock. He wondered if cars could come with a safety cushion. He created a design on his kitchen table which sounds romantic but was probably just somewhere he went to design things.
The first crash detection system was invented in 1967 by Allen K Breed, an electromechanical system which involved a ball-in-tube inflating an airbag via a magnet.
Lyndon B Johnson said in a speech that all cars should have airbags as early as 1969. Despite this, it seems that airbags have been far from top priority for driver’s safety.
When a few of them were rolled out in the 1970s they ultimately weren’t seen as customer friendly until the 1990s. This is because using an airbag was likely to lead to secondary injuries until a less rigid version was created in 1991 which was safer to use.
A 1973 Chevrolet Impala had driver side airbags. They only lasted until 1977, the manufacturers saying that hardly any consumers were interested. Ford and GM would lobby against airbags as both unfeasible and impractical for a number of years. The first brand to make airbags standard from 1988 was Chrysler but they were very much in the minority.
Another Annoying Factor: Sensor Lights
There are many reasons why the sensor light will come on, one of them is driving through a ford or a flood. Whatever the reason, it should be checked out. The light may be red or yellow and may be flashing, depending on the car make. The location of the sensor also varies.
There was a time when manufacturers insisted that airbags should be replaced after 15 years, which still seems a reasonable amount of time when you think about it, but this is no longer the case. However, it is more important to check sensors on older air bags as wrong deployment can create injury and cause accidents.
Exactly when and how airbags are deployed depends on the ECU (electronic control unit) which monitors the type of collision, the angle of impact and severity. A special algorithm works out if the factors for deployment have been met and which airbags should be deployed. It works by pyrotechnics, that is a small explosion, powered by backup battery.
Up to 10 airbags can be fitted in a modern vehicle, the most common being the driver and passenger. The principle of the airbag is to absorb energy and they are considered passive restraints in that they are not activated by the passenger.
Cars don’t especially need side airbags, but many manufacturers fit them anyway. Engineers are always coming up with new types of airbags such as rear curtain airbags and far-side airbags.
They still aren’t without incident, some people have been killed by airbags, mostly shorter people as they have to sit closer to the steering wheel. Unfortunately, these problems have yet to be resolved as of time of writing.