How Do Airbags Work To Keep You Safe?

How Do Airbags Work To Keep You Safe?

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At our auto body shop, Idaho Falls residents often bring their vehicles in after some pretty crazy accidents. Were it not for airbags, many of them wouldn’t be alive to tell the story.

Air bags are designed to protect you in a collision by cushioning your body and absorbing some of the impact. They work by inflating immediately in a car accident so that they can absorb the force of your body — mainly the head and chest. 

Most cars now have driver and passenger airbags, as well as side airbags and even knee airbags. 

Airbags have saved many lives since they were first introduced in the 1970s, but they’re not perfect. Here’s how they work and some of the limitations to keep in mind. 

How Air bags Work

nitrogen gas

When your vehicle collides with something, it immediately decelerates, which is detected by the vehicle’s accelerometer, which is a sensor that measures movement. 

If the rate of deceleration reaches a certain threshold — which can vary depending on the make and model but is typically equivalent to hitting a wall at 10 to 12mph— the sensor will trigger the air bag system. 

An electrical current is passed through a heating element by the airbag circuit. This is kind of like the element in a toaster, and it rapidly heats up the sodium azide (NaN3) pellets that are stored in the airbag. As the airbags deploy, they fill with a gas that is generated by a chemical 

reaction between the sodium azide and potassium nitrate. This process happens very quickly. The resulting gas is much less dense than the surrounding air, so it quickly fills up the bag and causes it to expand. 

The whole process from start to finish takes place in just a few milliseconds — fast enough to protect you during a crash. 

While airbags have been shown to be incredibly effective at saving lives and preventing serious injuries, it’s important to remember that they are not a substitute for seat belts. Wearing a seatbelt is still the best way to protect yourself in a car crash. 

Airbags are just one part of a car’s safety system. Other important safety features include seatbelts, crumple zones and crush zones. These systems work together to provide the best possible protection for passengers in the event of a collision. 

Where Airbags Are Located

child safety seat with side curtain airbags

Airbags are located in the steering wheel, dashboard and on the sides of the seats. In some cars, there may also be airbags in the back seat. 

How To Maximize Your Safety In The Event Of An Auto Accident 

frontal airbag inflatable seat belts

The force of a deployed airbag is strongest in the first 8cm and anyone sitting too close to it when it deploys could be seriously injured by it. To minimize the risk of injury, it’s important to: 

Sit Back 

You should sit at least 25cm (10 inches) away from the airbag to give it enough space to deploy properly. 

Wear A Seatbelt 

The airbag is not a replacement for a seatbelt and is designed to work with it. Wearing a seatbelt will help keep you in the correct position to benefit from the airbag. 

Don’t Put Anything On Your Lap 

Having something on your lap can cause serious injuries if you have a deployed airbag. Anything that can become airborne during an accident can cause serious injury, so it’s important to keep the area clear. 

Don’t Put Your Feet On The Dashboard 

In a frontal collision, your legs can be broken by the force of an airbag deploying if they are resting on the dashboard. These injuries can be severe, so it’s important to keep your feet on the floor. 

Keep Children Sitting In The Back 

Children should always sit in the back of the car, as they are at a greater risk of injury from a deployed airbag. If you must have a child in the front seat, be sure to use a rear-facing car seat and never put the child in a forward-facing car seat with the passenger airbag turned on. 

Know The Risks 

While airbags have saved many lives, they do come with some risks. Airbags deploy with a lot of force, and if you are close to the airbag when it deploys, you could be injured by the force of the deployment. It’s important to be aware of this risk and to take steps to avoid being in the direct path of a deployed airbag.

You can learn more about airbags and how they work by visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. 

Why Is My Airbag Light On? 

rear seat airbag inflates

An illuminated airbag light on your dash indicates a problem with the airbag system and means that the airbags may not deploy in the event of a crash. If your airbag light is on, you should take your car to a qualified technician as soon as possible to have the issue diagnosed and repaired. 

While airbags are designed to save lives, it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with them. If you have any questions about your airbags or the airbag system in your vehicle, be sure to ask a qualified technician. 

Is a Car Totaled If Airbags Deploy? 

car safety airbag deployment

No, a car is not automatically totaled if the airbags deploy. However, depending on the severity of the accident and the amount of damage to the vehicle, the insurance company may declare it a total loss. 

How Can I Tell If My Airbag Is Working Properly? 

airbags inflate supplementary restraint system

The best way to tell if your airbag is working properly is to have it inspected by a qualified technician. They will be able to test the system and diagnose any issues. However, it’s usually the case that if your “check airbag” light or “service airbag” message is not displaying, you should be fine. 

Do Airbags Hurt? 

vehicle occupants seat covers

Yes, airbags can hurt when they deploy. However, the injuries sustained are usually minor, such as bruises and cuts. More serious injuries are possible if you are not properly restrained by a seatbelt, or if the deployment is particularly forceful. When an airbag deploys, it does so with great force — enough to cause some serious injuries, especially if you are not properly restrained by a seat belt. 

Even though airbags can cause some injuries, it is important to remember that they save lives. Every year, thousands of people are killed in car accidents. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the occupants had been properly restrained by a seatbelt and an airbag. 

Been In An Auto Accident? Bring Your Vehicle Into Classic Auto Collision Repair For A Free Estimate!

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