How Air Bags In Automobiles Came To Be

When it comes to car safety, much attention is focused on seat belts and air bags. Air bags are pretty much commonplace automobile safety equipment right now, but they do seem like a more recent introduction into the auto industry. It doesn’t seem that long ago that air bags were considered a new and modern piece of safety equipment. But air bags have taken a long road to get to where they are now.

Air bags were first invented by for Navy engineer John Hetrick. The new device was patented in 1953 and was set upon almost immediately to be revised and improved upon. By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors were all including air bags in some of their vehicles on a very limited and somewhat experimental basis.

The 1970’s was still a time where seat belt use was largely seen as optional. Most laws requiring the wearing of seat belts would not be passed and begin to be enforced until the late 1970’s through the mid 1980’s. Air bags were seen as a non-invasive alternative to seat belts during the 1970’s, but once government began legislating vehicle safety devices more thoroughly, more attention was placed on seat belt requirements and continued interest in air bag technology slowly deflated.

Interest in air bags was revived in the late 1980’s when they were looked at in cars as a supplemental restraint system, something to work with a seat belt, instead of as a seat belt replacement option. The first car manufactured any where in the world to have both driver and passenger air bags included as standard equipment was the Porsche 944 turbo. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s saw air bags become common in most car models. While Ford and General Motors were including air bags in most of their models beginning in the late 1980’s, air bags would not become standard in European car models until the mid 1990’s.

In 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated that dual front air bags should be included on all vehicles made for distribution in the United States. They also altered the power requirements for air bags, lowering them to what is known as a de-powered unit or second generation air bag. Air bags that were originally designed as a replacement to the seat belt exhibited a great deal of force when they were deployed, this would sometimes cause injury or even death to the occupant that the air bag was designed to save. A de-powered or second generation unit is designed to provide impact resistant safety to a passenger who is assumed to be wearing a required seat belt. The common inclusion of side impact air bags and air bags designed to protect passengers in the rear of the vehicle would follow in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Today air bags are common components in every car. They are rarely even thought of any more and are just an assumed safety restraint. Air bags have gone from an exciting new invention, to a replacement idea for seat belts, to discarded technology, and finally brought back as a safety idea that can supplement the protection offered by a seat belt. Air bag technology will continue to evolve in the future and drivers and passengers of automobiles every where will be the beneficiaries.

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  1. Fascinating, thank you.
    I always thought the Porsche 944 was underrated and the news that it was the first car to have air bags as standard is another reason to give a great car greater respect.

  2. Reza says:

    Yeah !! Air bags are safe for automobiles.

  3. […] also want a car that has safety features like AirBags and control cruise that would give a worry-free drive each time I use it. Power locks, power […]

  4. Crispin says:

    Air bags are for saftey point everyone should keep it in car.

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