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How Do Airbags Work?

Airbags have only been around since the 1970s, when Ford introduced them in an experimental fleet of cars. It wasn’t until 1998 that airbags became a requirement in all new vehicles. Airbags are now in all of our cars, but do you know how they work?

Parts of an Airbag

There are three main parts to an airbag: the bag, the sensor and the inflation system.

  • The bag itself. The actual airbag is made of thin, nylon fabric. It’s folded into the steering wheel or dashboard.
  • Sensor. The sensor tells the bag to inflate in a collision. The sensor is calibrated to detect a collision force equal to running into a brick wall at 10 to 15 miles per hour.
  • Inflation System. The airbag is inflated with sodium azide and potassium nitrate with a device that’s the equivalent of a solid rocket booster.The two gases react quickly to produce a large pulse of hot nitrogen gas which inflates the bag causing it to burst out of the steering wheel or dashboard as it expands.

What Happens When an Airbag Inflates?

When nitrogen is produced by the inflation system and the bag inflates, it bursts out of the steering wheel or dashboard. The reaction happens faster than you can blink your eye, keeping you from colliding with the steering wheel, dashboard and windshield. About a second after the airbags inflate, they are already deflating because of holes in it, so it can get out of your way.

Airbags don’t always work as they’re supposed to. For example, Takata airbags have been under scrutiny and millions have been recalled for defects that have killed several people instead of saving them. If you’ve been in a car accident and have experienced injuries from an airbag, learn more about these types of injuries.

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