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How Do Airbags Work?

Getting caught up in a car accident in the UAE can be scary. If you are unlucky enough to be involved in one, a carefully controlled system will hopefully fire an airbag out from the dashboard, cushioning the impact and helping reduce the damage to your body.

Car crashes are controlled by laws of physics and, more specifically, laws of motion. Anything that moves has mass – combined with velocity, it builds kinetic energy. Once that energy comes to a stop, it has to go somewhere, which is why car crashes in UAE occur.

A seatbelt and proper airbag are your best shot at survival. While we know a bunch of things about seatbelts, what exactly are airbags, and how do they work?

What are airbags, and how do they work?

Airbags are inflatable cushions that are installed in the steering wheel, dashboard, doors, and often the seats of a vehicle. Most vehicles have curtain airbags too (overhead), seatbelt airbags, knee airbags, and center airbags. An airbag is designed to inflate and deflate quickly in the event of a collision – a force of around 20km/h is enough to inflate it.

Assuming that a car pulls out in front of you without warning and you brake as you should, an accident happens. Your car collides with the other object and decelerates rapidly. If the rate at which your car has decelerated is dramatic enough, the car’s accelerometer will trigger the airbag circuit in your vehicle. Once that circuit is activated, a heating element is also activated, setting a chemical explosive into action. The explosive chemical floods your airbag with large amounts of gas, inflating your airbag and shooting it outwards to protect you from the impact.

Who invented airbags?

A few different people are credited with inventing airbags. In the United States, it was John W. Hetrick of Newport, Pennsylvania, who originally came up with the idea after he was personally involved in an accident. He filed a patent in 1952.

Meanwhile, a German inventor named Walter Linderer filed an airbag patent in 1951 in Europe, which was granted three months after Hetrick’s patent was granted. Therefore, it seems likely that the two men came up with the same idea independently at more or less the same time.

How do airbags inflate so quickly?

Many people wonder how airbags inflate so quickly. The force is ignited by the solid propellant or gas inside the airbag that burns at a rapid pace, acting as a literal explosive. However, airbags need to inflate in the blink of an eye to save your life and are configured and tested accordingly.

The most common explosive used in airbags is called sodium azide. This chemical is toxic but poses minimal risk to your safety in the event of a car accident. It is mixed with other compounds to encourage a quick reaction whilst reducing your risk of exposure. The sheer power of the chemicals is what causes the airbag to inflate within just 10 to 20 milliseconds of impact.

If you are wondering where the plastic from the dashboard goes when airbags are inflated, in most cases, the airbag splits it open and pushes it to the side when it inflates. This is obviously thought so that you are not harmed, and the plastic remains attached to the vehicle.

Are there any risks associated with airbags?

Airbags have brought a huge improvement to the world but are still violently explosive things that may present dangers on their own. One of the biggest risks is the one airbags pose to young children – their explosive and uncontrolled nature might hurt kids. Adults might also face a small risk of eye injury and hearing loss. Even so, it’s clearly important to study all the benefits of airbags – evidence confirms they are a safe and effective solution.


Airbags are one of the most effective ways to minimize injury or fatalities in an accident. Studies have found that they reduced the number of fatalities in frontal collisions by as much as 24%. While they are not a substitute for seatbelts, they are still one of the most innovative and effective safety measures in a vehicle.