Airbag overload?

with Sharon Peters

Q: I keep reading about how these new cars have eight or 10 airbags. I can’t quite figure out, given the massiveness of the dashboard airbag when it deploys (and the amount of protection that provides), where that many airbags would be located and what they’d protect. A:

The more-is-better philosophy is definitely driving a lot of carmakers. What are all these airbags protecting? Just about every body part you can think of.

There are, of course, the frontal airbags that have been standard for years — the ones that explode out of the dash or steering wheel on impact to keep driver and front seat passenger from flying against the windshield, and they also offer some protection to the head, neck, shoulder and torso. The time is gone when those were the only two airbags available in any car.

These days, knee airbags are also quite popular for driver and front seat passenger because in a collision that mangles the front end of a vehicle, legs, ankles and feet are often broken even as the center airbag protects the upper body.

Side-impact airbags (also known as side-torso airbags) are now often installed (usually inside the seat) not only for front-seat passengers, but also for rear-seat passengers, protecting the middle regions of all who are next to a window. Side-curtain airbags, also often in front and rear, protect the head and neck when people are thrust side to side on impact, and some are designed to keep passengers from ejecting through windows in a crash. Some versions of the side-curtain airbag extend from front to back in one long roll to protect all two or three rows of people.

Other airbag applications have emerged that are not in broad use yet, including a seat-cushion airbag to keep the passenger from sliding under the seatbelt during a crash, and center-console airbag to keep driver and passenger from smashing into each other during side impact.

By the way, safety experts continue to point out that even with eight or 10 airbags flying at you from every direction in a crash, you won’t be fully protected if you’re not hooked into your seatbelt, as the restraint system and airbag system are designed to work in concert.

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