Airbags, the Innovation of Automobile Safety: Lifesavers and Killers
Driver and occupant safety has been a major concern since the invention of automobiles. The very
first safety feature on the automobile was the horn. They were easy to use and also provided an audio alert
to inform people that there was a car present. As time gradually past on, the number of drivers and cars
increased. The engineers noticed that an audio alert was not enough to protect the passengers of the car.
This brought about the invention of seatbelts, padded steering wheels, and many other safety features. As
time and technology progressed, the invention of driverís side airbags came about. The idea of airbags
were formulated as early as the late 1950ís; however, the thought of making a bag of air, exploding out at
phenomenal speeds, hindered their process because of the lack of technology, knowledge, and testing. In
the late 70ís and the early 80ís, airbags were put into the production of a limited number of cars for testing.
The results showed that drivers, !
in an accident, would benefit from a car equipped with an airbag rather than a car not equipped (Marcus
14). Americaís obsession with car safety lead to the hasty production of airbags. The dangers proposed by
airbags were overlooked (Orme 28). The hasty production of airbags raises a question of total occupant
safety. Are airbags safe for everyone and everything?
In the American society, safety features in an automobile are the priority of buying cars. Many car
buyers look for the feature of airbags when shopping. Today, very few cars leave the factory without at
least one airbag at the driverís side. More and more automakers include the passenger airbag in their
standard equipment. In 1989, only 7 percent of all cars built in the United States were equipped with an
airbag; the number for 1996 is at more than 80 percent (Juran 134). In 1992, under chapter 301 of title 49,
labeled S208 or standard number 208, U.S. congress ordained that all passenger cars must have dual
airbags by 1998 and light weight trucks the following year (Leib G1,G2). Airbags play a very important
role in the world of cars and drivers. Airbags are designed to absorb the shock of a collision in an accident
when the impact of a sudden stop causes the driverís head to move forward rapidly, a movement which can
cause spinal damage or lead to head and torso inj!
uries. "The bags have saved at least 1500 lives since 1989 while reducing serious head injuries by tens of
thousands" (Maynard A14). Statistics provide evidence that 92 percent of the cars equipped with airbags
have better occupant injury outcomes than automobiles without airbags (Henry 124). In a given instance, a
driver named Lawrence Resch, who lived in Houston, was in his Saturn driving home from work. It was a
Friday night around 8:00 p.m. As he was driving along I-45, a truck hit him head on. Apparently, the
driver of the truck had fallen asleep at the wheel. The driver of the truck was killed instantly; however,
Resch survived. His Saturn was totally destroyed, but Resch suffered only minor injuries to his legs and
ankles (Kimble A4). Because of stories like Reschís, many car companies invested in the development of
side impact airbags to further help prevent major injuries in accidents. The side impact airbags serve to
protect the head, neck, and torso in sid!
e collisions. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volvo, and Lexus have released cars with
side airbags. GMC, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, and Mitsubishi are currently in the process of releasing cars
with the side airbags later on in the decade.
People may wonder why airbags were developed so late. Airbags look safe and comfortable; however,
when the bag inflates, it produces forces in excess of 160 Gís, or 160 times the force of gravity (Swoboda
A15).
Airbags are not the gentle-looking pillows that billow in slow motion on television commercials. They
explode at speeds of 130 mph to nearly 200 mphóless than a blink of an eye. They can exert 1,100 to
2,600 pounds of pressure. (Clements B2)
The pressure that the airbag exerts on the driver is analogous to that of an elephant stepping on you for a
split