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Front Air Bags Increase Safety

Front Air Bags Increase Safety

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
With significant changes in air bag technology during the past decade, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, www.safercar.gov) issued a mandate requiring automakers to install advanced front air bag systems for the driver and front passenger by the 2006 model year.

Federal testing requires air bags to be safe for an average-sized adult male (5 feet 7 inches tall and 170 pounds) and a small adult female (5 feet tall and 100 pounds) wearing seat belts in collisions up to 30 mph. The air bags must also be safe for a small adult female who is not wearing a seat belt in a collision up to 25 mph. Child "dummies" representing various ages and sizes are also involved in air bag safety testing. These dummies are tested in car seats and unrestrained in various positions (such as sitting, kneeling, and lying down) to ensure that real children will not be injured by air bag deployment.

NHTSA requires that each system include sensors to detect the size of the occupant, the seating position, seat belt use, and the severity of the crash. Some automakers also have sensors that can identify a child car seat on the front-passenger seat and suppress the air bag in the event of a crash. Other automakers use ultrasonic sensors to identify when occupants are out of the typical seating position and either reduce the force or suppress the air bag altogether.

The latest technology
Some manufacturers have upped the ante in air bag technology, going beyond the federal requirements for safety by designing front air bags that not only deploy with less force but also deploy in a smaller size or different shape, depending on occupant size and location.

"Dual-depth" air bags determine within milliseconds the size, shape, and force with which the air bag should deploy, or if it should be suppressed completely. "Twin-chamber" air bags deploy in a manner that creates a depression in the center, dispersing the energy throughout the upper body (compared to a single-chamber air bag, which places force on a specific area of the body).

These next-generation systems use sensors to measure the force of the collision in real time, as well as the weight of the occupant and the position of the seat. The vehicle's computer then determines the appropriate size, force, or shape of air bag deployment.

Looking to the future
While it's likely that more automakers will begin to adopt this technology, even more advanced technology is on the horizon. Soon, these ultra-intelligent systems should be able to identify even greater detail, such as whether the passenger is riding with their feet resting on the dashboard or if they lean over to pick something up off the floor just before a collision.
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