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How the Airbag Became a Life-Saving Standard in Vehicles: A History Lesson for Students in Auto Training School

Published on August 31, 2017 by in Blog, CATI

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There are certain safety features in vehicles that are so important it’s hard to imagine a time when people were willing to drive without them. Airbags, in particular, have made a huge impact on vehicle safety since they were invented just over 65 years ago. According to estimates from the Canada Safety Council, airbags reduce fatalities in head-on collisions by up to 23 per cent. While the exact number of lives saved by airbags vary, there’s no doubt that they play a crucial role in keeping today’s drivers safe on roads. However, it hasn’t always been that way.

Read on to learn more about how the airbag came to be.

The Early Beginnings of Airbags Explained for Students in Auto Training School

Two individuals can be credited for inventing the first airbags, but only one would go on to be successful. Walter Linderer, a German engineer, and John W. Hetrick, an American engineer, both filed patents for airbag-like inventions in 1951. Linderer’s airbag proved to be a bust, as it wouldn’t inflate quickly enough in the event of an accident. However, Hetrick’s airbag patent, which was inspired by a dangerous close call he had on the road with his own family, was approved in November of 1953.

Hetrick’s design was based off the torpedoes he observed during his time in the United States Navy and how they used compressed air to launch. Despite the fact that his invention had obvious safety benefits, Hetrick had little luck convincing major vehicle manufacturers to adopt his idea into their cars. Many of them cited the difficulty of fine-tuning his design so that the airbags would inflate accurately and quickly enough as their reason not to invest. At this point, seatbelts also weren’t widely used, and automotive safety wasn’t a large concern.

Major Brands Were Slow to Adopt Airbags Into Their Vehicles

It wasn’t until the 1960s when the number of automobile accidents began to increase that car brands started taking notice. The USA’s federal government introduced a mandate that all new cars made after 1969 had to feature some sort of automatic occupant protection system, like a seatbelt, safety net, or airbag. As the end of the ‘60s neared, there was a major turning point when an inventor created a working crash sensor that would become the very first electromechanical automotive airbag system. It only cost five dollars.

The 1973 Oldstown Toronado became the very first car to feature a passenger airbag. In the years following, many brands started to jump on the bandwagon and offer airbags in their vehicles. In 1974, Buick, Cadillac, and Oldsmobile started offering airbags as an option in their cars, which started a movement over the next ten years of more brands making them an option.

In 1990, the world got a taste of just how much of a difference airbags can make when the first incident between two airbag-equipped vehicles occurred. What would have been a tragic head-on collision resulted in no deaths thanks to the airbags in both vehicles, which protected their drivers.

While it isn’t the law for cars to be equipped with airbags in Canada, the United States government does have a law mandating airbags, which means you can expect to see airbags in basically all new cars after automotive repair training.

Modern-Day Airbags That Students in Auto Training School May Recognize

As graduates of auto training school know, most modern-day vehicles have not one airbag, but many. Frontal, side, side torso, side tubular, curtain, knee, rear curtain, seat cushion, center, and seat belt airbags are all types of airbags placed around a vehicle’s cabin. Together, they are designed to keep a driver safe in the event of a crash from any angle.

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Most modern-day cars are equipped with multiple airbags

One of the newest airbag advancements, the pedestrian airbag, comes from Volvo. The airbag pops out of the top of the hood to cover most of the windshield in the event of a collision with a pedestrian, shielding the individual from going through the windshield or hitting their head. With advancements in auto technology like Volvo’s happening every day, there’s no telling what airbag systems will look like in the future.

Does learning about the automotive industry fascinate you? Consider becoming a mechanic!

Contact CATI today to learn more about launching a career in the auto industry!

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