Airbags save lives by rapidly deploying a nylon bag in order to prevent drivers and passengers from impacting hard parts of the vehicle such as the steering wheel and windshield. The aim is to keep occupants from sustaining serious head and upper body injuries. A study published in 2009 by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration states more than 28,000 American lives have been saved because of airbag technology.
The first airbag was invented by Mercedes-Benz in 1980 after 13 years of research. The S-class W-126 series vehicle was the first car in the world to feature an airbag for the driver and a belt tensioner for the front passenger. This safety feature became standard equipment for drivers on all new vehicles in the United States in 1989.
The first federal government study on airbag effectiveness in 1992 showed wearing a seatbelt, in addition to having an airbag, reduced the chances of dying in a head-on collision by 26 percent, according to the New York Times. Statistics in 2010 revealed airbags and seatbelts lower the probability of a fatal injury by 61 percent.
At one time, the automobile industry was critical of government standards regarding airbags. Fifty-three people, 31 of them children, were killed in 1997 due to airbag deployment. New rules were adopted stating that children should ride in the back seat until age 12. The reason for the deaths was attributed to the 100-mph speed with which airbags inflate as they hit smaller human bodies, which are unable to withstand the force.