With wider roads and highways with increased speed limits, road safety has become a bigger concern than ever. There was a time in the past when cars were manufactured and sold without the basic seat belt safety feature before it was mandated by governments of several countries. With time, safety features have developed and airbags are now becoming commonplace, with all new cars being fitted with them.
Since 1998, cars in the United States were mandated to have at least two airbags, one on the driver side and the other on the passenger side. With the advancements in technology, the seat-mounted and door-mounted airbags were also added as enhanced safety features by car manufacturers. Today, airbags are constantly subject to research and development and have been found to reduce the number of fatalities in case of accidents by about 30%.
The airbag mainly consists of a three basic components:
- A cushion like structure that inflates and forms the pillow,
- A complex sensor system to measure the acceleration and detect collisions or rollovers
- A deployment mechanism triggering the airbag to inflate
There are several types of airbags: the frontal airbags are the most common type of airbag and are placed on the steering wheel and the dashboard. They help to minimize the impact of a head-on or frontal collision. Side airbags as their name suggests are found on the sides of the doors or car seats to protect occupants from collision impacts from the side and rollovers. These come as curtain airbags, torso airbags or a combination of head and torso airbags.
A combination of the above types of airbags can be found on most cars. While six airbags are not present in all models, car manufacturers are changing their stand regarding this. Nowadays, some car manufacturers, such as Suzuki for example, include six airbags in their most basic models as well. And as a result, small cars in Australia have taken a lead for providing better safety for drivers who opt for the smaller budget cars. The new Volkswagen Polo, carries six airbags and other enhanced safety features at no extra cost. Hyundai's i20, is also expected to follow suit with respect to the six airbags safety feature.
In India, there is no independent body to crash-test car models on the airbag safety front. While many cars in India sold in the economy and small car segment have airbags fitted as a safety measure, there have been many reports suggesting the airbags failed to deploy in an accident. Not many people know that the airbag in the car they are driving may not deploy if the seat belt has not been fastened. The calibration of the crash sensors plays an important role as well. Creating awareness for airbag safety and inclusion of frontal and side airbags is fast becoming a necessity for all cars, big or small. Ultimately India needs to put in place proper safety testing centres to ensure that airbags on all models are deployed successfully, therefore avoiding unnecessary injuries or worst, deaths.