Air bags have come a long way over the years, but people still have a lot of questions about when they are supposed to deploy and where they are located.
Of course you know that there is an air bag located in the steering wheel and usually one on the passenger side of the dash. Many times the other air bags can blend into the interior, where you can hardly tell that they are there until they deploy.
Air bags are hidden in different places in the vehicle, such as in the seats or along the roof line. But they should have markings on the panels telling you that there is an air bag behind them such as “Air Bag” or “SRS." You can also look in your owner’s manual to find out specifically where your air bags are located.
Air bags inflate in a fraction of a second when you are in a serious crash and cushion your body to reduce injuries. Side curtain air bags come down from the roof area and are designed to not only protect you in a side impact crash, but in a rollover as well.
Sometimes there are air bags in the side of your seats and they’re designed to protect your midsection in a side impact crash. Many people suffer serious internal injuries in these types of crashes, but these air bags can help reduce those injuries. Having air bag technology on vehicles has not only reduced injuries, but it’s also saved countless lives over the years.
So when should an air bag deploy? Air bags are designed to deploy when your vehicle decelerates very quickly, about the equivalent of running into a brick wall at about 12 miles an hour (but don’t go try that, take my word for it!). Sometimes people are surprised when their air bags don’t deploy in a crash, but that’s usually because the vehicle didn’t decelerate quickly enough to trigger the bags to deploy.
An electronic control module is what determines when and how forcefully the air bags deploy in a crash. Sensors relay information to the module such as speed of the vehicle, whether the brakes are applied, sometimes even the weight of whoever is sitting in the seat. The module then uses that information to deploy the air bags with appropriate force, to give you the best opportunity to avoid injury.
The control modules also store information about the crash, kind of like a black box on an airplane. There has been a lot of debate over the years about who should have access to that information after a crash due to privacy laws, because most people don’t want a third party coming in and getting information off of that “black box” without their permission. Especially the part about the weight!