Side impacts account for about 30% of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths. Serious injuries in side impacts usually involve the head, chest and abdomen. Thus, while side air bags aren't legally required, there is a growing market for them, especially as the benefits of frontal air bags become known. Side air bags will be in 1,700,000 vehicles worldwide by the end of 1996--about 300,000 of them in North America. They are projected to be in 5,000,000 vehicles worldwide in 1997. More cars in Europe will have side bags initially than in the United States, but the numbers should even out by 1999. Luxury cars generally will get side bags first, and midsize cars will follow. Small cars will get them, too, but on a more limited basis. The first side bag for a small car will debut in a 1997 model. Autoliv, Europe's largest manufacturer of air bags and safety belts, developed the world's first side-impact air bag for the Volvo 850. The company has air bag contracts with virtually every carmaker in Europe as well as orders from major U.S. manufacturers. Side air bags are mounted either in the door or in the seat. They will primarily use electronic sensors located in the crush zone to trigger deployment. They must detect an impact within 4-5 milliseconds, compared with 15-20 milliseconds in a frontal crash. They also must inflate faster--within 20 milliseconds after initial impact compared with 60-75 milliseconds for frontal bags. Tests conducted by air bag suppliers and automakers indicate side bags provide a 40-60% reduction in the dummy injury criteria for the head and chest. One company's tests have shown up to an 80% improvement in head injury scores with a head/thorax bag. There are potential barriers to widespread use of advanced restraints like side-impact air bags for the head and chest. Some automakers believe the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new head impact protection standard conflicts with the use of alternative head protection systems, including side air bags. BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Volvo have asked that the rule be changed to allow compliance alternatives for vehicles with such dynamic protection systems. Regardless of the possible regulatory hurdles, air bag suppliers and auto manufacturers are not only proceeding with side bags but also with plans for other kinds of air bags, such as a knee bag, an inflatable head restraint, bags for rollover protection, and an external bag to cushion the vehicle itself in a crash. Side-impact air bags for people in rear seats may be constrained by economics as well as the low occupancy rate in the rear seats of passenger vehicles on U.S. roads.


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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00724911
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Report/Paper Numbers: HS-042 183
  • Files: HSL, ATRI, USDOT
  • Created Date: Aug 20 1996 12:00AM