How do airbags work?

6 minute read Published on Jan 23, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Rear View Of Female Motorist Placing Her Hand Behind Her Neck For What It Seems Like A Head Injury Getting Out Of Car After Crash

Getting into a car accident is a terrifying experience, especially given that car accidents can lead to injury and even death. Thankfully, modern vehicles are equipped with all kinds of safety features to help drivers avoid common causes of car accidents and the injuries that may stem from them. One such safety feature is airbags. Below, we explain how airbags work to protect drivers and passengers from harm during a collision.

Airbag functionality: how airbags work

Most drivers are aware that their vehicle contains airbags. However, what they may not understand is how these airbags work to protect them. Airbags are a safety feature designed to protect a driver’s body - particularly, their chest, head, and neck - from hitting inside the car during a collision.

For instance, frontal airbags are intended to cushion the driver’s chest, head, and neck, preventing them from smashing into the steering wheel, windshield, or dash in a front-end collision, one of the most common car accidents.

Most airbags activate or deploy when the severity of the impact from a crash passes a certain preset threshold, as identified by the car’s sensors. When the sensors in your car are triggered, they send an electric signal to initiate a chemical reaction that works to inflate the airbag with nitrogen gas. This entire process occurs extremely quickly, sometimes in the blink of an eye.

Since airbags contain vents, they deflate nearly as quickly as they inflate. In fact, they typically start deflating immediately after absorbing the occupant. This prevents them from smothering the occupant or restricting their movement.

Please note that when an airbag is deployed, you may notice something that looks like smoke in your car. This is nothing to fear. Rather, it is a non-toxic starch or talcum powder that is used to keep the inner sides of the airbag from sticking to one another.

For more information on how airbags work, we break down two of the most common types of airbags below:

Frontal airbags

Frontal airbags are what most people think of when they think of airbags in a car. Frontal airbags usually deploy from the steering wheel on the driver’s side and from the dash on the passenger’s side.

They are intended to cushion a person’s head, neck, and chest, preventing them from smashing into the dash, the steering wheel, or the windshield. Seat belts work in conjunction with airbags to ensure the passenger is not sitting too close to the airbag if and when it is deployed.

Side airbags

On the other hand, side airbags are usually located in the seats of the vehicle, specifically the backrests of the front seats. These airbags are designed to protect a person’s head or chest from hitting the side structure of the car, or the item or vehicle that may have struck them. Since there is less space between the driver or passenger and the object to the side of them, side airbags tend to inflate faster than frontal airbags.

Are all airbags the same?

No, not all airbags are the same. In fact, airbags can differ significantly in both design and performance between manufacturers. A few key differences between them are the speed at which they are triggered, the actual speed and force of the deployment, how they inflate, and the size and shape of the airbag.

Ultimately, airbags are one of the most important safety features in vehicles, as well as one of the oldest. Thus, they have undergone many evolutions over the years, becoming increasingly complex and advanced.

What does it feel like when an airbag is deployed?

Many people wonder what to expect when an airbag is deployed. Given the incredible force at which they are activated, you should expect to hear a loud bang noise at the time they are deployed. Meanwhile, when your body hits the airbag, it will likely feel similar to hitting a pillow. Due to the loud noise of the airbag, you may hear a ringing noise in your ears in the short term. You may also see smoke or find talcum powder on your body.

As mentioned previously, many airbags contain starch or talcum powder to keep the airbag lubricated so it does not stick together while inactive. Ultimately, there is nothing to fear when it comes to airbag deployment.

Plus, the reality is that if you find yourself in a collision that is severe enough that your car’s airbags are deployed, you will likely be too preoccupied with everything else that is going on to notice the force and noises of the airbags being deployed in your car.

What are the risks of airbags?

There are certain risks and dangers that come with airbags. However, the benefits of airbags far outweigh the risks. One risk is that airbags can lead to injury, though this will usually only occur due to improper usage.

For example, airbags are designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts. Wearing a seatbelt prevents you from being too close to the frontal airbag when it is deployed. If you are not wearing a seatbelt, then it’s possible that the airbag will be deployed too close to your head or chest, which could cause bodily harm.

Children and pregnant women may be at an increased risk for being injured by an airbag, due to their short height and larger stomachs, respectively. Children run the risk of the airbag not adequately protecting them if they are not of a certain height while pregnant women run the risk of their stomachs being too close to the steering wheel, leading to injury. To ensure your airbags remain as safe as possible, continue reading for a list of tips to help you prevent airbag injuries.

Tips to prevent injuries from airbags

Follow the tips below to avoid being injured in the event that an airbag is deployed in your car:

  • The driver and passenger in the front seat should always sit upright in the middle of the seat and against the back of the seat with their feet on the floor.
  • Take care never to rest your arms or legs against an airbag since the force of the airbag, along with the nitrogen gas inside the airbag, could cause injury.
  • Be careful about outfitting your car with seat covers or dash covers, as these could block or redirect the airbag, rendering it less effective.
  • The driver’s chest should always be a minimum of ten inches from the centre of the steering wheel. If you are short and need your seat to be moved up, readjust the angle of the backseat by reclining it slightly to ensure you are still ten inches from the steering wheel. That said, many modern airbags can identify the seat position of the driver and will deploy with less force if an occupant is too close to the steering wheel.
  • Young children should never sit in the front seat. Instead, they should be seated in the back of the car. If this is impossible, then the front seat should be moved as far back as possible and the child should be safely secured into the seat with a seatbelt.
  • All passengers, but especially children, should never lean against the door where the side airbag is located, as if it is deployed, this can cause bodily harm. Even if your car does not have a side airbag, if someone is leaning against the side door at the time of a collision, it increases the risk of serious injury.
  • Pregnant women in the late stages of pregnancy should do everything they can to ensure that their abdomen is at least ten inches from the steering wheel when driving. Further, the lap belt should be positioned as high up on the thighs as possible.

Contact BrokerLink

If you have questions about vehicle safety features, such as airbags, contact BrokerLink today. One of our licensed insurance advisors can explain in greater detail how airbags can protect you, as well as the other benefits that come with having them in your car. We can even explain how certain vehicle safety features can lead to lower car insurance rates.

For instance, some features like anti-theft devices may make you eligible for a car insurance discount, while others like airbags can reduce your odds of a collision, which in turn, can help you keep your driving record clean and your rates low.

To learn more about the different types of auto insurance that you can add to your car insurance policy, reach out to BrokerLink today. We can offer insight into the mandatory coverage types in your province, such as third party liability car insurance, as well as offer advice on some additional protection that might be worthwhile. Some of the insurance coverages we can help you find include:

Lastly, if you’re wondering how much car insurance costs per month in Ontario, BrokerLink can tell you. Simply request a free car insurance quote using our online quote tool. BrokerLink is pleased to offer complimentary and accurate insurance quotes to all customers.

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