The Science Behind How Airbags Work

Three airbags have deployed in a sedanIn the world of automotive safety, airbags stand as a testament to how engineering and science can combine to save countless lives. These cushioned barriers, which deploy in fractions of a second during a collision, have become standard features in most vehicles.

But if you’re like most drivers, you might not even know how they work or why they’re so effective in reducing the severity of injury. Here’s some of the science behind these devices:

A Swift Response to Danger

Airbags are designed to react quickly in the event of a collision. Integrated into every vehicle are a series of sensors. When a rapid deceleration is detected, signaling a potential crash, these sensors send an urgent message to the car’s electronic control unit (ECU). The ECU evaluates the data and, if it determines a deployment is needed, activates the airbag inflator.

This inflator then ignites a chemical propellant, releasing nitrogen gas which inflates the airbag at astonishing speeds, typically within 20 to 30 milliseconds. This swift deployment ensures the airbag acts as a cushion between the car occupants and the vehicle’s interior structures.

The Role of Vented Airbags

Once inflated, airbags are not designed to remain rigid, or fully inflated as is often seen in TV shows and movies. Instead, they immediately start deflating. This is crucial as the venting process helps to absorb and dissipate the energy from the collision, reducing the force exerted on the passenger. By deflating, the airbag effectively catches the occupant, much like a trampoline, lessening potential injuries.

A Collaboration of Safety Features

While airbags are remarkable in their operation, they work best in conjunction with seat belts. While originally designed as a “primary” restraint, for many reasons they were quickly classified as a secondary restraint with seatbelts being the primary. The seat belt retains the passenger in the correct position, as well as slowing the occupant’s movement forward into the rapidly expanding airbag, thus ensuring the airbag can effectively perform its protective function. It’s this tandem that has consistently proven to reduce the severity of injuries in high-impact collisions.

If you have the misfortune of being in a car accident, your airbags will go a long way toward keeping you alive. Should you ever find yourself needing a detailed analysis of that accident, remember that sophisticated tools, including forensic car accident reconstruction software, can provide valuable insights. Our software is highly accurate, providing you with the information you need for court, insurance, or other purposes. To learn more about our services, give us a call at 619-464-3478 today!