Twenty Years of Airbag Protection for Volvo Autos

By: Glady Reign

The foremost auto brand that comes to mind when talking about safe car is Volvo. The Swedish car manufacturer has been at the forefront in the development of safety features for automotive application. Today, the company is still being considered as the world's leader in safe cars. Numerous safety features have been developed by the company and one of which is the airbag.

This year marks the 20th year that Volvo has been using airbags on their mass-produced vehicles. The airbag is considered as one of the most vital safety features of any car. The device protects the passengers and driver from severe injuries or even death in the unfortunate event of a crash.

But the acceptance of airbags in its early stages is lesser than today. There have been questions as to the effectiveness of the device to protect a driver from colliding with the steering wheel in cases of rear and front collision.

Volvo's Interior Product Development head Lennart Johansson explains the complexity of an airbag. "Getting a crash bag to deploy is not a problem but to make it deploy at exactly the right moment is."

While it was only 20 years ago that Volvo used the first airbag on their vehicle, the device was already conceived in the 1950s. Unfortunately though, the patented device requires the driver to press a button to activate the airbag. Needless to say, the device is next to useless in protecting a driver in case of high-speed crashes.

Another problem faced by the use of airbags is how it is inflated. In its early stages, explosive charges used in inflating the airbag are questioned for its safety. One major concern is how these explosive charges are handled in the assembly facilities. Another concern is its relative safety when already installed in a vehicle. It is possible, of course, that the vibration of a car or intense heat during some driving conditions, the explosive charge can explode and cause accidents instead of protecting the driver.

In the United States, the use of the airbag was initially used to replace seatbelts. Later on though, airbags were used as complementing safety features to seatbelts.

"More crash bags will not necessarily improve the overall safety level; the crash bag is part of a systematic approach where the car's structure, seat belts and crash bags interact to ensure optimum absorption of the impact forces in a crash," says Johansson.

1994 was the year when the world saw Volvo introducing the first crash bag designed to protect vehicle occupants in cases of side impacts. "We made the side crash bag a part of our patented side impact protection system," says Johansson. "It took other automakers a couple of years to catch up," he added.

In 1998, Volvo once again revolutionized the use of crash bags by offering the first inflatable side curtain air bags on the flagship S80. This safety feature is designed to protect the head of vehicle occupants in cases of side collision. Recently, this safety feature is integrated in the new Volvo XC70. The side curtain airbags also complement and other safety features in the V70.

"Crash bag performance has been improved significantly. Today's crash bags are more adapted to the collision sequence and how occupants are moved by impact forces," says Johansson. "Twenty years down the road, crash bag technology is a vital part of our aim to build the world's safest cars."

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