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How Airbags Have Evolved to Protect Us

auto-femaleIf you are in a car wreck in East Texas, finding a qualified Houston vehicle accident lawyers is an important step in protecting your legal rights. Houston auto accident settlements can take the sting out of vehicle accident injuries, but they can never give you back your health. Houston car wreck attorneys will tell you that prevention is always preferable to recovery, and one of the systems that has greatly helped prevent deaths and injuries on the road is the airbag. Over the years, airbags have evolved to become more effective than ever before.

Airbags Made Mandatory

Cars today are safer than anything from the past. Over the last four decades, bumpers and frames have been improved, crumple zones have been added, steering columns have been made collapsible, seat belts have become safer and dashboards are padded. In addition, Mercedes-Benz became the first auto manufacturer to include airbags in its vehicles in 1986.

By 1998, the federal government made airbags mandatory in passenger vehicles, and since that time, they have been responsible for saving more than 2,300 lives each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when airbags are used in conjunction with seat belts, fatalities in an accident are reduced by 61 percent.

Side-Impact Airbags Debut

In the 1990s, airbag systems made their first evolutionary leap with the addition of side-impact airbags, which were innovated by Volvo. Most of these airbags deploy from the door, and they help protect the head, chest and pelvis in the event of an accident. Side airbags are very effective at protecting passengers in vehicles susceptible to rollovers, such as SUVs, but this works both ways. They also protect people in small passenger cars that are involved in collisions with SUVs.

“When SUVs hit you from the the side, their hood is right at the level of your head,” said Adrian Lund, COO of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “We have seen about a 45 percent reduction in fatal injuries for vehicles that are equipped with side airbags.”

In 2009, the NHTSA made headway in its efforts to improve the safety standards for passenger vehicles by making side-impact airbags standard equipment. Soon afterward, General Motors developed a new dual-depth airbag, which can inflate at different levels depending on several other safety factors, such as the position of the seats and the force of the impact.

Volvo also developed a similar technology called dual-stage airbags. These airbags measure the force of impact and the usage of seatbelts to inflate the bags at the most effective speed and pressure. For instance, a low-speed accident would trigger a slow inflation to about 70 percent capacity while a severe wreck would trigger quick inflation at 100 percent.

Another technology related to side-impact airbags was developed by BMW: the knee airbag. These airbags help protect the legs of drivers during front-end wrecks.

Advanced Frontal Airbags

While early airbags saved thousands of lives over the past 20 years, there have been accidents where they caused serious injuries, especially to children sitting in front seats. A study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that children had a 14.9 percent chance of being seriously injured by a deployed airbag in a vehicle from 1997 or earlier. The risk decreased to 9.9 percent for vehicles manufactured from 1998 to 2001.

This led to the development of advanced frontal airbags, which have been mandated by the NHTSA since 2006. Advanced airbags, also known as smart, multi-stage or dual-stage airbags, reduce the risk of injury to children and adults with the use of sensors that measure several factors. This airbag technology takes into account the weight of the passenger, seating position and seatbelt usage to deploy with full or reduced force.

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