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How Fast Does an Airbag Deploy During Collisions?

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Ever wondered how fast an airbag deploys?
Well, you’re in the right place.

An airbag is a car safety feature that activates at lightning speed (less than 1/20th of a second) during a frontal or near-frontal collision, saving over 50,000 lives in the last thirty years.

So, how does this life-saving mechanism work?

Read on to explore how this rapid deployment occurs, the different types of airbags designed to save your life in collisions, and some reasons why your airbag may fail to do its work.

This Article Contains:

How Fast Does an Airbag Deploy?

An airbag can inflate in less than 1/20th of a second or 50 milliseconds after a collision — almost as quickly as the blink of an eye.

Airbag deployment occurs in a moderate to severe crash, i.e., when your vehicle hits a barrier at a speed of 8 to 14 mph. Besides speed, airbag deployment also depends on other factors such as the angle of the impact, type of collision (frontal or side), rate of deacceleration, etc. 

When your car’s sensors detect a collision, the airbag system’s electronic control unit sends a signal to the inflator within the airbag module. This results in the rapid deployment of the airbags. The quick deployment creates a cushioning barrier between you and the vehicle’s interior, like the steering wheel, to help reduce the risk of personal injury from the impact.

Let’s explore how this safety feature works in detail.

How Do Airbag Systems Work?

A vehicle’s airbag system is equipped with crash sensors (on the front bumper, passenger compartment, side panels, and doors) that detect collisions and send signals to the Airbag Control Module (ACM). 

The ACM evaluates these airbag sensor signals, gauging the severity of impact to decide if it meets the criteria for airbag deployment. The signal from the ACM activates an inflator within the airbag module, starting a rapid chemical reaction. This reaction uses sodium azide to produce a harmless nitrogen gas that quickly inflates the airbag.

Most vehicles have different types of airbags strategically placed throughout the vehicle. 
Let’s look at some common ones.

What Are the Different Types of Airbags Found in Cars?

There are three basic types of airbags designed to provide targeted protection against specific accidental impacts:

1. Front Airbags

A frontal airbag rapidly inflates to protect you during frontal collisions by creating a cushioning barrier between you and the car’s interior. They help prevent an occupant’s head and chest from hitting the steering wheel or windshield during a frontal crash.

If you have a seat belt on, the airbag will deploy at a higher speed threshold of 16 mph. However, it may deploy at a speed of 8 to 14 mph for non-belted occupants. 

Note: Some cars also have a knee airbag located in the lower part of the steering wheel column and dashboard. Knee airbags help distribute the impact of a frontal crash to prevent leg injuries. 

2. Side Airbags

Side airbags protect occupants during side collisions and prevent a person’s head and chest from hitting the vehicle’s interior or other objects, such as trees or poles. 

Due to the limited space between the passenger and the vehicle’s side, the airbag deployment speed of side airbags is faster — usually about 10-20 milliseconds of a crash. They may activate at speeds as low as 8 mph for a narrow object crash (like trees) and 18 mph for more widespread side impact, like vehicle-to-vehicle collisions.

3. Side Curtain Airbags

A side curtain airbag offers protection during rollover collisions. They are located above the windows, creating a curtain-like barrier that covers the vehicle’s interior.

The airbag sensor measures the vehicle’s tilt and sideways movements to inflate the airbag. 

The airbag deployment speed of side curtain airbags is 10-20 milliseconds of a crash. However, they stay inflated longer than front airbags to provide continuous protection during multiple-roll crashes.   

But sometimes, you may notice that airbags fail to deploy upon impact.
Here’s a peek into why that happens. 

What Factors Cause Airbag Deployment Failure During a Crash?

Airbag deployment failure during a severe crash can result from:

If airbags don’t deploy in car accidents, the occupants face a higher risk of severe injury due to the lack of additional protection.

However, sometimes, the airbag deployment itself can cause minor injuries.
Keep scrolling to know how. 

Can Airbag Deployment Cause Injuries?

The rapid inflation of an airbag generates a forceful impact, and airbags deploying at such speeds can cause minor facial and eye injuries, abrasions, bruises, etc. Sometimes, an airbag injury can also be caused by a defective airbag.

To prevent an airbag injury, it’s essential to always wear a seat belt, maintain a proper seating posture, and ensure a minimum distance between you and the steering wheel.

Did you know some vehicles have an on/off switch for airbags? 

The NHTSA permits certain vehicles to have an airbag on/off switch so that they can be turned off if the person seated in front is safer without the airbags deploying. This includes infants, children under 13, and people with medical conditions. 

Moreover, for safety purposes, the government can also issue a recall for vehicles with defective airbag systems. For example, the NHTSA recalled around 67 million Takata airbags because they exploded upon deployment and led to severe injuries and even death.

Have more questions?
Check out the FAQs next. 

3 FAQs about Airbag Deployment

Here are answers to some queries you may have about airbag deployment:

1. Can Airbags Be Reused After a Car Accident?

No, you can’t reuse airbags after deployment. 

Once an airbag has been deployed in a car accident, it undergoes a rapid inflation process that causes it to inflate and deflate quickly. This rapid inflation and deflation can damage the airbag, making it ineffective for future use.

So, for your safety, it is recommended to replace a deployed airbag and have the entire airbag system inspected ten years from its manufacture date. 

2. How Much Does Airbag Replacement Cost?

The typical cost to replace a faulty airbag ranges from $1,000 to $2,000. However, the expense may vary depending on your airbag type, vehicle model, and car insurance policy.

Here is an estimated cost breakdown for different types of airbags:

Note: If you’ve been in a severe collision, it can also lead to a total loss of the vehicle. A car insurance company declares a vehicle as a total loss when its repair costs exceed its value.

3. Is it Safe to Drive a Car After the Airbags Have Deployed?

Driving a car with a deployed airbag is generally unsafe and not recommended, as it can interfere with visibility and compromise vehicle safety. 

Airbag deployment often signals a major car crash, so your vehicle may have other damages that may not be visible. So, you must get your car examined at an auto body repair shop or by a mechanic, as ignoring the issue can further damage your vehicle.

Get Your Airbag Issues Checked with AutoNation Mobile Service                      

Rapid airbag inflation during a car accident is essential to prevent severe injury. However, faulty crash sensors or airbag installation can compromise their effectiveness, causing deployment failure.

If you have an airbag issue, why not get the experts at AutoNation Mobile Service to take a look?
We’re a mobile auto repair company offering upfront pricing and a 12-month|12,000-mile repair warranty

Contact us and our mechanic will drop by to help you out, right from your driveway.