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Evolving Air Bag Tech Forces IIHS to Revisit Testing

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June 24, 2020—After an increase in side-impact fatalities after years of declines, IIHS expects to revise its more than a decade-old side-impact test, amid changes in air bag technology.

IIHS reported that roughly 25 percent of all deaths are due to side-impact crashes, and said it hopes to have the redesigned test factored into its ratings by 2022.

Potential changes could be a heavier and less uniform-shaped barrier and a faster crash-test speed to account for real-world conditions. That could lead to redesigned vehicle structures and even revised supplemental restraint systems like air bags.

In its spring Q2 2020 Industry Trend Report, Mitchell International took a look at some of the advances in air bag systems both available and coming in the future.

Although not available in every car, consumers can find these four additional types of air bag systems on the road today:

  • Advanced frontal air bags
  • Knee air bags
  • Front center air bags, developed by GM and Toyota, “intended to prevent front passengers from colliding with each other during side impact crashes and to maintain occupant position in far-side or rollover crashes.”
  • Rear inflatable seatbelts, a cross between air bags and seatbelts 

As for future innovation in air bag technology, OEMs such as Mercedes have developed sensors to determine an impending impact and deploy air bags from underneath the car to slow it down and improve stopping power—making air bags a more active safety system.

Mitchell reported one four other safety systems that offer the latest advances in air bag technology:

  1. External pre-crash side air bag. Global technology company ZF calls its prototype “the world’s first pre-crash occupant safety system.” Radar, LiDAR and cameras are used to sense signs of a collision and to determine whether a collision would occur, and then quickly deploy on the vehicle’s exterior.
  2. Far-side air bags for the vehicle interiors. ZF said it will begin series production in 2020 for air bags designed to support the head and upper area of the passengers involved in collisions on the opposite, or far-side of the vehicle.
  3. Rear-seat frontal air bags. Mercedes is previewing a concept where partially powered “tubular structures” inflate to cushion a rear-seat occupant’s forward movement in a frontal collision.
  4. Panorama sunroof air bags. Similar to the design of a side-curtain air bag, Hyundai Mobis has introduced an air bag to prevent injuries related to a rollover crash.

While potentially life-saving, these advancements do make repair processes more challenging, Mitchell noted. “From parts to post-repair calibrations, it is imperative for technicians to have the right information at the right time if they are to perform proper air bag repairs,” the report said.

Beyond using up-to-date OEM repair procedures, proper sensor and module repair, replacement and recalibration will be necessary to ensure the system's function accurately and do not fire inaccurately. Performing physical post-repair safety inspections on belts, seat mounts and air bag warning may be the best way to ensure wires are fully reconnected after a collision.

Image: Honda

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