How Do Airbags Work?


Quick Answer

Airbags, a standard technology in cars, exist as small pieces of material that inflate instantaneously upon sensing an accident or impact; they operate in conjunction with special sensors that signal their inflation to protect occupants. Airbags appear in many locations throughout cars; they are standard on the front seats, and newer cars have them on the back side doors too. Although small, airbags are critical safety features in accidents as they may keep passengers protected from hitting glass, the steering wheel, dashboard and other objects during crashes.

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Full Answer

Although critical parts of cars, airbags remain hidden until deployed. Following an accident, airbags activate through the help of sensors, which provide information on the impact that determines whether or not airbags should deploy. These sensors are either mechanical or electrical, and come in various designs. They activate when impacts occur, and instantly collect data to send to the electronic control unit, or ECU. Sensors send information to the ECU on car speed, number of passengers, brake pressure and more. This data quickly reaches the ECU, which activates control locks if warranted.

Control locks release the airbags from their containers. This release triggers a chemical reaction in the inflator system to fill the bags with nitrogen gas. The bags then burst through their storage containers to cushion the blow of an accident. Although the process is complex, the airbag activation process takes just milliseconds, and bags deploy at speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

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