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Airbags have been in circulation since the early 50s. Since then, they’ve saved at least 50,000 people, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

Airbags provide rapid cushioning when a vehicle crashes, inflating and deploying within the blink of an eye — literally. It only takes one-twentieth of a second for an airbag to inflate.

But when exactly did airbags become mandatory for cars in the US and beyond?

When Did Airbags Become Mandatory in the US?

After the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 went into effect, airbags became mandatory in the US seven years later on September 1st, 1998.

On top of airbags being a requirement for all vehicles, vehicle owner’s manuals were mandated to explain the importance of wearing seatbelts all the time.

When Did Side Airbags Become Mandatory?

These safety systems aren’t mandated by law, but a law was passed in 2009 in the US that requires all vehicles to have some form of side protection, like side airbags.

Are Airbags Mandatory in Other Countries?

Airbags aren’t required by law in a lot of countries, despite being such an effective safety system. Countries that don’t consider them mandatory include the UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan. On the other hand, airbags are mandatory in many countries, such as India.

What Are the Benefits of Using Airbags?

car passenger side airbag deployed
Airbags are designed to protect the driver along with any of their passengers.

Airbags are designed to protect the driver along with any of their passengers. Here are some of the most prominent benefits that come with having airbags in your vehicle.

Activates By Itself

Arguably, the greatest advantage of airbags is that it’s a safety system that requires no input from the driver. Instead, airbags activate when your vehicle collides with something, protecting drivers and passengers during emergencies. After all, most people wouldn’t be able to react in time to activate airbags before a crash.

Cushions Vital Organs

Airbags protect vital organs and body parts, such as the brain, spine, and neck. They accomplish this by providing much-needed cushioning when your vehicle crashes into an obstacle while driving.

Keeps You From Flying Out Your Vehicle

Another benefit that comes from using airbags is that they prevent you from flying out of your vehicle when you crash. Sometimes seatbelts alone are insufficient, but being pushed back by an airbag significantly decreases the odds of you being flung from your seat.

Reduces the Force of Impact

Airbags also reduce the force of impact from what could potentially be fatal crashes, dampening blows that might’ve broken bones or worse. When airbags deploy, they push against you, limiting the distance you fling forward and making it less likely to snap your neck, spine, or other bones from the whiplash.

Are There Any Dangers That Come With Using Airbags?

Every driver should install airbags in their vehicle and replace ones that have already been used up. With that said, it also pays to know that certain risks that come with using them.

For instance, airbags really, really hurt when they’re deployed. Still, short-term pain is a preferable alternative to permanent death. Here are some potential dangers when airbags are deployed.

Blunt Trauma from Airbags

When airbags are deployed, they’re released at rapid speeds to protect the driver and any passengers in the vehicle as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the faster something is, the greater the force of impact when it hits something. Because of this, airbags have the potential to cause fractures, internal injuries, and in some severe cases, broken bones.

Deployment Releases Talcum Powder

Another downside that comes with using airbags is the fact that talcum powder is used to lubricate the nylon fabric.

While the talcum powder assists the bag with its release, the dust cloud created by the powder could cause respiratory issues when inhaled. It could negatively impact breathing and cause asthma attacks.

Potential Gas Fires

Nitrogen gas is used to inflate the airbag during deployment. Unfortunately, the nitrogen is released into the bag via a detonator that explodes.

If there are any gasoline fumes or other flammable materials present in the vehicle, the explosion could grow larger than intended, placing people at risk of serious burn-related injuries.

Risk of Thermal and Chemical Burns

Last but not least, the sheer speed at which an airbag is released is fast enough to cause incredibly painful rug burns when the fabric makes contact with bare skin.

These burns have the potential to scrape your skin to the point that you might suffer from first- or second-degree burns. Burns from friction are known as thermal burns.

Chemical burns, on the other hand, occur when chemicals irritate and burn your skin. Airbags are full of hot nitrogen gas. If the airbag ruptured or damaged in any way, that gas might escape and sear any driver or passenger caught in it.

Typically, receiving burns from this hot nitrogen gas leads to second or third-degree burns.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

File Under : Trivia and History , Features
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