Airbags, used in conjunction with seat belts, have become essential safety tools for motorists. Front driver and passenger airbags have been required equipment in U.S. manufactured cars since 1998. Today, there are vehicles which feature more than ten different airbags – some, with airbags right in the seat belt itself (Source: Consumer Reports). It is estimated that between 1987 and 2008, front airbags saved close to 26,000 lives (Source: NHTSA).
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How an Airbag Works: Airbags are lightweight, fabric structures designed to protect a driver or passenger by inflating before a person can make contact with something harmful inside the vehicle – such as the steering wheel, dashboard, windshield, door panel, etc. When a vehicle is in a collision, a signal is sent from the airbag’s electronic control unit to its inflator. The inflator then triggers a chemical reaction, producing a gas which inflates the airbag (Source: NHTSA). On average, it takes only about 20 to 30 milliseconds for a driver’s side airbag to inflate (Source: DMV). Some older model vehicles may have cornstarch or talcum power in the airbag system; when those airbags deploy, there can be the appearance of smoke, but the substance is nontoxic.
What to Do If Your Vehicle’s Airbag Deploys: It is important to know what to do if you are in a collision and any of the airbags deploy. The first thing following the collision, is to assess the injuries of the driver and passengers in the vehicle. If anyone is unconscious or hurt, call 9-1-1 and seek medical treatment immediately. Once the airbags have deployed, the car should NOT be driven, so phoning for help is the best course of action. In some vehicles, when the airbag inflates, the engine automatically shuts off. This is to prevent any fires from possible fuel leaks. If the airbag deploys and the vehicle is still running, it is a good idea to turn off the engine as soon as possible.
Your Airbags After a Collision: Above all, the motorist should NOT drive the vehicle again until your car is inspected by a mechanic.