Behind the Scenes: How Engineers Design Airbags to Minimize Injuries

Since the first airbag was invented in the 1950s, airbag and automotive manufacturers around the world have spent millions, if not billions, of dollars investing in improving airbag technology. Yet, while today’s airbags are safer than ever, airbag injuries are still a very real risk, and many accident victims and families find themselves needing to hire an airbag defect lawyer to help them assert their legal rights.

Here is an overview of how airbags are supposed to protect drivers and passengers in the event of a crash.

The Three Main Components of a Modern Airbag

Modern airbags have three main components: a crash sensor, an inflator and a fabric airbag. All three of these components need to be designed properly (and function properly) in order to protect drivers and passengers during a collision.

1. The Crash Sensor

Crash sensors serve as the connection point between airbags and the rest of the vehicle. When a crash sensor detects a collision, it sends a signal to the airbag’s inflator triggering it to deploy. Crash sensors work by measuring impact forces—when a crash sensor detects an impact force above a certain threshold, this triggers (or is supposed to trigger) airbag deployment.

How much impact force does it take to trigger a crash sensor? It depends. This is a key aspect of airbag design. When designing airbag systems, engineers need to take a vehicle’s size, shape, weight and other unique characteristics into account. All of these factors play a role in determining how safe a vehicle’s occupants are in the event of a crash, and as a result, they all play a role in determining when the vehicle’s airbags should deploy.

2. The Inflator

The next key component of an airbag is the inflator. As its name suggests, this component inflates (or blows up) the airbag. Crash sensors send signals to inflators, and then inflators initiate a chemical reaction (or are supposed to initiate a chemical reaction) that blows up the airbag in the blink of an eye.

This isn’t an exaggeration. The amount of time it takes (or should) take for an airbag to fully inflate is about 1/20th of a second—which is about how long it takes the average person to blink. If an airbag inflates any slower, it may not provide adequate protection. If an airbag inflates any faster, the impact force from the airbag itself can cause serious chest, head, neck, back or arm injuries.

How do airbag inflators work? The chemical reaction triggered by a crash sensor emits a gas that fills the airbag. Typically, this involves mixing sodium azide with potassium nitrate to create nitrogen gas. While nitrogen gas can be dangerous if inhaled on its own, it is generally considered safe when mixed with oxygen—as is the case when an airbag deploys inside of a vehicle’s cabin.

Just like crash sensors, inflators need to be designed properly in order to ensure driver and passenger safety. If an inflator cannot blow up an airbag in less than 1/20th of a second, or if an inflator explodes instead of deploying properly, this can present serious (or even fatal) risks. Unfortunately, millions of vehicles in the United States currently have defective inflators manufactured by Takata and ARC—and these defective inflators have been blamed for numerous injuries and deaths.

3. The Fabric Airbag

The third key component of an airbag is the fabric airbag itself. Most modern airbags are constructed using a Nylon fabric that is woven and/or treated to be both impermeable to gas (so that they can properly inflate) and flame-resistant (so that they don’t catch fire in the event of an airbag explosion). Most modern airbags use a specific type of Nylon known as Nylon 6 or Nylon 66 that has been specifically designed to have both of these crucial properties.

However, Nylon fabrics often have an abrasive texture. As a result, even when airbags deploy properly, they can still cause injuries. It is not uncommon for crash victims to suffer friction burns caused by their airbags, whether on their faces or on exposed skin on their arms, shoulders or chest.

The Combined Safety Benefits of Airbags and Seatbelts

Another key aspect of modern airbag design is that most modern airbags are designed to work in conjunction with a driver’s or passenger’s seatbelt. As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains, “air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them,” and “[s]itting as far back from the steering wheel or dashboard as possible and using seatbelts help prevent drivers and passengers from being “too close” to a deploying frontal air bag.”

As a result, regardless of whether seatbelts are required by law (some states require passengers to wear seatbelts, while others do not), it is important to buckle up. If you get in a crash and you aren’t wearing your seatbelt, your airbag might not be able to protect you.

What Happens When an Airbag is Designed Improperly?

While airbags should be designed to function properly, we know that this isn’t always the case. Millions of Takata and ARC airbags have been recalled due to defects that present risks for serious and fatal injuries. So, when you (or someone you love) gets injured by a defective airbag, what are your legal rights?

Serious and fatal airbag injuries will entitle victims and their families to financial compensation in many cases. As a result, if you or someone you love has been harmed by an airbag, you should speak with an airbag defect lawyer promptly. Your legal rights depend on your individual circumstances, and you will need an experienced lawyer to determine both what claim (or claims) you can file and how much you are entitled to recover.

Talk to an Airbag Defect Lawyer About Filing a Claim for Free

For more information about seeking just compensation for airbag-related injuries, contact us today. Give us a call or request a free consultation online to speak with an experienced airbag defect lawyer in confidence as soon as possible.