You might know car airbags as the ones that might save your life, together with car seat belts when you get into an accident. But do you really know how they work?

The invention of airbags

Airbags and seatbelts came into existence at a similar time, around the mid-20th century. The original concept of an airbag was literally a bag filled with air to cushion impact. Over time it was then improved to being a compressed air bag that would expand on impact or under certain conditions, but the inflation was deemed not fast enough to ensure safety.

Modern airbags work by having sensors on the car that detect a severe impact, which would then send a signal to the airbag to produce a chemical reaction. Inside the airbag is a small amount of Sodium Azide, which when ignited will create Nitrogen that is 500 times the amount of Sodium Azide. In practice, this enables the airbag to be fully inflated in just 30 milliseconds, or 0.03 seconds, which will matter a lot when saving your life in an accident.

Back then when seat belts still weren’t compulsory, airbags were offered as an alternative solution to those who didn’t want seat belts, which proved to be quite popular as people could still drive around without a seat belt but was still protected in case of accidents.

Popularity of Airbags

Although seatbelts and airbags were already options for vehicles in the past. In Malaysia, the mandatory fitting and wearing of seatbelts were first made in 1979, and was then enhanced during the following years. But for airbags, Malaysia only made it mandatory for all new vehicles to be equipped with at least two frontal airbags in 2012.

Before this law came into place, many cars only offered one driver side airbags for cars, with some budget-oriented cars not even equipped with airbags. Nowadays we take airbags for granted, with premium cars having up to 6 or more airbags equipped in different parts of the car’s interior, such as knee and side airbags, ensuring maximum safety of its occupants.

What happens after the airbag activates?

Since the airbag is a single-use item when deployed, if you’re unfortunately involved in an accident and the airbag deployed, you will need to bring your car to a workshop to replace the used airbag. Replacing the airbag and making sure it is in good condition is important as if you plan on driving the car again, you need to make sure the airbag works and it can protect you in case of another accident.