The Evolution of Airbags in Automobiles: From 1941 to Today

Airbags are a vital safety instrument in modern vehicles. Today’s airbags are much more advanced than the original design, and they continue to save lives every day. Interested in knowing more about this small but essential safety gear? Let’s look at the history of airbags and how they have evolved.

Airbag Evolution: From the Beginning to Modern Time

Airbags have been saving lives in automobiles for decades. The concept and development started in 1941, but there was no notable success until the ’50s. John W. Hetrick was the first person to claim a patent in 1953. A personal car accident experience drove him to design this safety instrument.

Another man named Walter Linderer patented his airbag design in the same year. However, those airbags were far from perfect. All they could do was create a safety cushion in the event of hard-braking and collisions. Those airbags were just pre-deployed air-filled bags, nothing else.

airbag evolution
Airbags in old cars were just an air-filled bag. (Credit: Pixnio / Marko Milivojevic)

However, the design evolution of airbags has been a continuous process. Let’s talk about the most significant changes in chronological order:

Modern Airbag Prototype

The deploying airbags in their primary days could not provide adequate protection. The prototype of modern airbags became a reality in 1963. A Japanese man named Yasuzaburou Kobori invented that more dependable system, but it was still far from ideal.

Breed’s Sensor and Safety System

The system took a massive leap of improvement after Allen Breed invented a sensor and safety system in 1968. His crash sensing device was relatively inexpensive to manufacture. It encouraged the automakers to incorporate the system into their cars. The system used an accelerometer and a pressure sensor to detect collisions and deploy the bag. It allowed for the more accurate deployment of the airbag.

Breed brought numerous improvements to his airbag design over the following decades. He also worked on other devices to improve the safety of both drivers and passengers. General Motors and Ford also included it in their cars as an add-on.

A Standard Safety Feature in the ’80s

In the late 1980s, airbags became a standard feature in most automobiles. It happened primarily due to government regulations that mandated their installation in all new cars.

Airbags continued to evolve during this time, with new designs and technologies being developed constantly. In the late 1990s, many countries required that all new cars be equipped with side-impact airbags.


The Revolutionary Pre-Safe System

In the early 2000s, automakers started adding more advanced technology to their vehicles. One such example is Mercedes Benz’s Pre-Safe system. This system used sensors and computers to predict when a crash was likely to occur; it would then deploy the airbags and seatbelts before the collision occurred. The safety add-on helped save many lives, as it gave drivers an extra few seconds to react.

The Present and Future of Airbags

Today’s cars are equipped with even more advanced technology than ever before. Airbags have come a long way since Hetrick’s original design in 1953. They continue to evolve and become more advanced every day, thanks to the hard work of engineers and scientists worldwide. Automakers are currently thinking of bringing airbags for knees. We’ll see what the future of airbags holds in coming years.