The air bag traces its origin to air-filled bladders outlined as early as 1941 and first patented in the 1950s. Early air bag systems
One of the first patents for automobile air bags was awarded to industrial engineer John Hetrick on August 18, 1953. Conceived by Hetrick after a near accident in 1952, the design called for a tank of compressed air under the hood and inflatable bags on the steering wheel, in the middle of the dash-board, and in the glove compartment to protect front seat occupants, and on the back of the front seat to protect rear seat passengers. The force of a collision would propel a sliding weight forward to send air into the bags. Many other inventors and researchers followed suit, all exploring slightly different designs, so that the exact technical trail from the early designs to the present system is impossible to note with certainty.
In 1968, John Pietz, a chemist for Talley Defense Systems, pioneered a solid propellant using sodium azide (NaN 3 ) and a metallic oxide. This was the first nitrogen-generating solid propellant, and it soon replaced the older, bulkier systems. Sodium azide in its solid state is toxic if ingested in large doses, but in automotive applications is carefully sealed inside a steel or aluminum container within the air bag system.
Since the 1960s, air bag-equipped cars in controlled tests and everyday use have demonstrated the effectiveness and reliability. The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety conducted a study of the federal government's Fatal Accident Reporting System using data from 1985 to 1991, and concluded that driver fatalities in frontal collisions were lowered by 28 percent in automobiles equipped with air bags. According to
In response to consumers' increased safety concerns and insurance industry pressure, the federal government has forced automobile manufacturers to upgrade their safety features. First, Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations require all cars, beginning with model year 1990, sold in the United States to be equipped with a passive restraint system. (passive restraint systems—requiring no activation by the occupant—involve the use of automatic seat belts and/or the use of air bags.) If car manufacturers choose an air bag, then regulations require only a driver' s-side system until model year 1994, when air bag-equipped cars must include passive protection on the passenger's side as well. A 1991 law requires driver and passenger air bags in all cars by the 1998 model year and in light trucks and vans by 1999.
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