The Cool Science Behind Airbags

A car accident can happen in a second. In most cases, you might not even have time to react. Luckily, your airbag knows exactly when to react.

But how? Let’s find out!

The Airbag’s Purpose

The purpose of an airbag is to slow the forward motion of the passenger in the event of a crash. It’s a matter of basic physics — an object that is in motion will stay in motion, unless an outside force acts on it. During a car crash, the airbag works as that outside force. It stops the motion of the passenger, preventing further injury.

What Is It Made Of?

The airbag is made up of a few parts:

  • A thin nylon fabric bag
  • A sensor, which tells the device to inflate
  • An inflation system
  • Accelerometer

How Does It Work?

The accelerometer detects the change in speed, which triggers a response from the inflation system. For the sensors to react, the vehicle needs to reach a force equal to running into a brick wall at 10 to 15 miles per hour.

The inflation system produces nitrogen gas, which is the product of a reaction between sodium azide and potassium nitrate. When heated, the nitrogen gas explodes, causing the bag to burst.

The whole process only takes about 1/25th of a second! This is faster than the blink of an eye. Once the airbag has deployed, tiny holes in the bag allow it to quickly deflate. The bag is coated with a non-toxic mix of corn-based powder, which you may find all over your car after the airbag deploys.

Are Airbags Dangerous?

Generally, the idea of an exploding bag hitting you in the face sounds anything but safe! In order to effectively keep your body from slamming into the dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield, airbags have to exert a fair amount of force, which can be painful. Children and small adults are particularly at risk for airbag injuries, which can include:

  • Facial abrasions and other facial injuries
  • Eye injury, like retinal detachment
  • Internal bleeding and damage to internal organs
  • Hearing loss or ear trauma
  • Neck injuries

In pregnant woman, the sudden force of the airbag can cause trauma to the fetus or placental tearing.

None of this means, however, that you should turn off your car’s airbag system right away. There are other options. Children should always sit in the backseat, where they will not be hit by the airbags. Shorter adults should be sure to sit as far back from the steering wheel as they possibly can, which will minimize the damage if the airbags deploy. If a situation truly calls for it, it’s possible to turn off the airbags. But before you do this, carefully weigh the risks and benefits of airbags.

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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