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An Overview of Frontal Airbag Performance with Changes in Frontal Crash-Test Requirements: Findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel for the Evaluation of Advanced Airbags
Published December 01, 2008 by Fraunhofer Institut Chemische Technologie in Germany
Event: Airbag 2008
Objective - In the mid 1990s evidence emerged that airbag deployments could result in deaths to vulnerable vehicle occupants who were very close to airbag modules when they deployed. In 1997, federal frontal crash test requirements were modified to allow crash testing with unbelted dummies to be performed using sled tests. As a result, vehicle manufacturers were able to redesign airbags to deploy with less force and energy, thereby reducing the toll of airbag-induced deaths. However, there was concern that these depowered airbags may not provide the same level of protection to unbelted occupants in severe frontal crashes, particularly occupants of large stature and body mass. This paper provides a summary of recent studies addressing this concern.
Methods - To expedite the accrual of data regarding airbag performance, the collection of additional crash data was funded by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. A panel of experts was commissioned to oversee the process and evaluate the data. During the past six years, several studies have been undertaken by panel members and others to evaluate the performance of vehicles equipped with redesigned and advanced frontal-impact airbags and the data are summarized here.
Results - There is now convincing evidence that the combination of airbag redesign and public education to place children in rear seats have resulted in dramatic reductions in airbag-induced infant and child deaths. In addition, the fatality risks among children sitting in front seats have been reduced by as much as half, with younger children showing the greatest benefits. Among adult drivers and right-front passengers, there is no evidence for the predicted loss of protection for unbelted adults in sled-certified vehicles, and there are far fewer airbag-induced deaths among this population. However, despite extensive analyses, the possibility of a somewhat elevated fatality risk among a subset of unbelted drivers in sled-certified 1998-99 model vehicles cannot be ruled out. There also is some evidence that the risks of serious-to-fatal chest injuries may be higher among unbelted drivers in frontal crashes of sled-certified vehicles. Further research is warranted to determine whether these differences remain in newer model vehicles designed and tested to the advanced federal airbag rule which took effect in 2003.