Airbag First Introduced As Standard At Mercedes Benz 25 Years Ago | Part Two

US statistics: airbags have saved over 14,200 human lives since 1987

Right from the start, Mercedes Benz had designed the airbag to supplement the three-point seatbelt whose primary function was to provide additional protection in the event of a frontal impact. Accident research results confirm the wisdom of this approach: back in the seventies, around 30 per cent of Mercedes car drivers wearing seatbelts involved in very severe frontal collisions suffered life-threatening injuries; however Mercedes experts can confirm that serious injury rates of this magnitude are firmly a thing of the past thanks to the excellent interaction between the airbag, seatbelt, belt tensioner and other protection measures.

If these Mercedes accident research results are projected to take into account all passenger cars, it emerges that the airbag has helped to save over 2,500 human lives in Germany alone since 1990.

The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has calculated that airbags protect one in every three car occupants against serious injury in an accident. Furthermore, around one in six drivers and front passengers involved in road accidents owe their lives to airbags. Since 1987, the airbag has saved the lives of over 14,200 car occupants in the USA.

Mercedes innovations: sidebags and windowbags for supplementary protection

The Mercedes engineers built on their big lead in the airbag development stakes and continued to further improve the system. The world premiere of the driver's airbag was followed by the launch of the front-passenger airbag in 1988 and, in 1995, the introduction of one of the first side airbags for passenger cars. The latter has been supplemented by the windowbag since 1998. This was also the year in which Mercedes Benz introduced adaptive airbags that deploy in two stages, depending on the severity of the accident, thus providing even more effective occupant protection.

In addition, the PRE-SAFE anticipatory occupant protection system - unveiled by Mercedes Benz in 2002 and still not available in this form from any other car manufacturer - further enhances the protective effect of the seatbelt and the airbag. Advance tensioning of the front seatbelts and repositioning of the seats ahead of a potential accident prepare the occupants for a possible collision, meaning that the seatbelts and airbags offer the highest possible level of protection when activated.

State-of-the-art Mercedes Benz passenger cars like the new S-Class are equipped with a total of eight airbags: two adaptive front airbags, four sidebags and two windowbags. As well as being able to test itself, the airbag technology is maintenance-free and remains functional for the entire lifetime of the Mercedes Benz passenger car.

Vision for the future: an airbag that is triggered before impact

Airbags will continue to play an important role in passenger car safety in years to come. Mercedes engineers are looking into the possibility of a protective system that automatically adapts itself to take into account the current accident situation and the car occupants. Sophisticated radar technology of the kind recently introduced in the new S-Class could help in this respect. If developed a stage further, this radar technology and other anticipatory sensors could provide the data needed to calculate the severity of an unavoidable accident before actual impact. Airbags could then become an integral part of the PRE-SAFE system, deploying before impact in several slower stages and with a greater volume of air in order to protect the occupants for a longer period of time.

Another priority for the airbags of tomorrow is to provide even more personalised protection. By way of example, it should be possible to program the on-board computer with information such as the age, sex and biometric data (e.g. body size and weight) of the occupants in order to tailor the protection system to individual requirements.

Published 31 October 2005 Melanie Carter

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