How Your Vehicle’s Side Air Bags Protect You and Your Passengers

Prior to 2007, side-installed airbags were optional. Automakers were not required to install them within their fleets. That changed toward the end of 2007. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) helped pass legislation requiring all automakers to have them installed by September 2013. Today, a growing number of vehicles come equipped with side air bags (SAs).
But how do they protect you and your passengers from injury in the event of an accident? We’ll explore this issue below. I’ll describe how these airbags protect your chest and head during a collision, and explain why many people are concerned about potential safety issues.
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There are three main types of SAs. The first type is designed to protect your head – and those of your passengers – in the event your vehicle is hit from the side. In this type of collision, an occupant’s head can potentially slam into a side window. The second type is designed to protect your chest during a side collision. The third and last type is a combination of the previous two.
Protection For Your Head
Suppose you are involved in a front-impact collision. Following the impact, your body and head lurch forward toward your steering wheel and windshield. If you make contact at high speeds, the impact can prove fatal. Front airbags were designed to prevent your body or head from making contact after a front-impact collision.
As noted earlier, side-impact airbags are designed to protect your head from your side windows. For that reason, they are typically installed along the roof of your vehicle. Upon impact, they deploy downward and provide a buffer between you and the window nearest your head.
Sometimes, these bags cover the entire window. Other times, they cover the top portion and thus, are designed to protect adults. Moreover, some vehicles only have them installed for the driver and passenger in the front seat. Others have them installed for those in the row – or rows – behind. They are not meant to offer protection for occupants sitting in the middle.
Protection For Your Chest
Chest-protection side airbags might be installed within your vehicle’s door panels or the sides of the seats. Currently, most automakers that have already begun installing them only do so for occupants sitting in the front of the car. Upon impact, the bags deploy sideward to provide a buffer between your torso and the door.
Combo SAs are primarily designed for installation into convertible cars. Because the roof on such vehicles can be removed or “taken down,” these combination airbags are installed into the doors or seats.
Is There Safety Issues?
According to the NHTSA, there are no safety issues associated with side airbags. However, it is worth noting that the same claim was made regarding Paint Protection Film Review front air bags years ago. This was prior to reports surfacing of injuries and deaths involving children caused by the deployment of early versions.
Safety issues surrounding front-protection airbags have been all but eliminated over the last several years. The same may not yet be true regarding side-protection bags. As we approach the September 2013 deadline set by the NHTSA, the installation, materials used, and deployment protocols among varying automakers will likely become standardized. This will help resolve potential safety issues that exist today.
Automakers continue to test designs for their side-protection airbags in a variety of circumstances. This includes testing them to determine how effectively they can protect children and small adults during a side collision. Testing also involves placing crash dummies within the vehicle’s cabin in specific body positions (e.g. laying across the back seat) to identify potential areas of exposure.
Like the development of front air bags, side-installed bags will likely continue to evolve over the next decade. As they do, they’ll offer even higher levels of safety and protection from injury.

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