Airbags are now one of the basic equipment of cars around the world. However, few people give much thought to their number.
It all started with a traffic accident that industrial engineering technician John W. Hetrick survived. Inspired by this event, he patented a “safety cushion assembly for motor vehicles.” Meanwhile, in Germany, Walter Linderer had patented a similar system. In both cases, the general idea of the patent was similar to the solution we know today.
The automobile companies General Motors and Ford Motor Company showed interest in the patents fairly quickly. However, the longer they looked at both solutions, the more questions and problems arose. One of them was that the airbag took too long to inflate. Another problem was the material used to make the cushions, which could add to the injuries a person suffered in a crash.
It wasn’t until 1967 that Allen Breed improved the system by changing it to an electromechanical system. Not only did this allow a collision to be detected and the airbag activated within 25 milliseconds, but it also reduced manufacturing costs by 30 percent. American remained active in the environment for a long time to come, in 1991 patenting a partially permeable airbag that was not as hard when struck by the body.
The first mass-market car was the 1973 Oldsmobile Tornado, and the first vehicle to offer a safety package of seat belts and airbags was the Mercedes W126. As the years passed, airbags and curtain air system became more popular and were installed by many companies.
What number of airbags is best? We will simply write that the more the better. Currently on the car market we have models with 13 and even 16 airbags and curtains. For many years, the minimum number of airbags is four – two front and two side, or six (additional two side curtains)
Currently, few people can imagine buying a car without such a system, but a few years ago on the Polish market you could buy Tata cars, which did not have airbags. A similar situation still exists in China, where many low-cost or micro-class vehicles are not equipped with this type of safety system.
While with new cars we don’t have to worry about the condition of the system, with used or accident vehicles it will be difficult for us to verify that the airbags are still in the car and working. Installation of used airbags is illegal, but you can buy them without any problem – whether at a junkyard, scrap yard, or over the Internet. As the 2005 Regulation of the Minister of Infrastructure reads: “airbags with pyrotechnic activators, their electronic control units and sensors, and seats integrated with safety belts or airbags” are among the items that cannot be put back into service after disassembly.
So why is the trade flourishing? The provision talks about a list of parts banned for reassembly, not trafficking in them. This means that any of us can buy a used airbag. The temptation to buy such components is their low price, and it is often the case that the insurer will only accept a total loss if all the airbags and curtains have gone off.
An important aspect of buying a car straight from the showroom is to pay attention to how many so-called stars the vehicle has, which are awarded in crash tests, whether frontal or side. In Europe, the most important testing body is Euro NCAP, which, in addition to checking new cars, revises its scores every year, taking into account changing requirements.
Incorrectly installed systems can result in serious injury or even death. Often we are unable to inspect the airbag and do not know what vehicle it was removed from. Unfortunately, awareness of the risks does not change much, but the low price and hassle-free replacement makes many people still decide to take this step. The only solution to end the practice of installing a used system is to introduce a complete ban on trading it, but so far no one has addressed the issue, and the trade continues to flourish.