The invention of the airbag has been a hugely important event in the history of the automobile. Countless lives have been saved by the successful implementation of airbags and as a result, the current industry trend involves fitting the safety system on any and every car, no matter what its size or segment. The technology has now progressed to such a high level, that premium vehicles are coming equipped with multiple airbags that help protect all occupants from frontal and side impacts. One of the few remaining hurdles left for airbag technology to cross is protection against injury through occupant contact.
When a car is hit from the side, inertia plays a big part in causing serious injuries. Passengers experience whiplash and are flung sideways which often results in the bumping of heads, particularly in the front row. To help mitigate this issue, companies like GM and Toyota have been researching the advantages of a centre mounted airbag for the past 6 to 7 years.
Now however, information released by German component manufacturer, ZF Friedrichshafen AG, suggests that protection against person-to-person contact injuries and far-side occupant injuries are issues that are actively in the process of being tackled. As a result, centre airbags could soon start to feature in upcoming car as they provide protection to the occupant's head and neck, both of which are extremely delicate and sensitive to trauma.
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As explained by ZF, centre airbags have 2 variations. The first is an interaction airbag that is fitted into the driver front seat back, facing the inner side of the vehicle. This helps in minimizing occupant interaction between the driver and passenger in the event of a crash by limiting horizontal displacement. The second variant is called the far-side airbag which helps keep the occupant in position and helps prevent occupants from pin-balling within the vehicle.
The issue of inter-occupant impact injuries is being seriously studied by road safety authorities in the EU and in America. Centre airbags for near and far-side impact protection may in fact become mandatory in certain countries. Dirk Schultz, Global Engineering Director at ZF stated," The risk to far-side occupants during side impact crashes is significant. Accident research shows that in the USA, nearly 30 per cent of side impact fatalities involve far side events, and in Germany, nearly 30 per cent of severely injured occupants in side crashes resulted from far side collisions." ZF has also been working on other innovative airbag solutions like front-seat mounted rear passenger airbag technology and roof mounted airbag technology, both of which have the potential to substantially increase rear passenger safety.