When Should an Airbag Inflate?

The driver’s and right front passenger’s frontal airbags are designed to inflate in moderate to severe frontal or near-frontal crashes. But they are designed to inflate only if the impact exceeds a predetermined deployment threshold. Deployment thresholds take into account a variety of desired deployment and non-deployment events and are used to predict how severe a crash is likely to be in time for the airbags to inflate and help restrain the occupants. Whether your frontal airbags will or should deploy is not based on how fast your vehicle is traveling. It depends largely on what you hit, the direction of the impact, and how quickly your vehicle slows down.

In addition, your vehicle has “dual stage” frontal airbags, which adjust the restraint according to crash severity. Your vehicle has electronic frontal sensors, which helps the sensing system distinguish between a moderate frontal impact and a more severe frontal impact. For moderate frontal impacts, these airbags inflate at a level less than full deployment. For more severe frontal impacts, full deployment occurs.

If the front of your vehicle goes straight into a wall that does not move or deform, the threshold level for the reduced deployment is about 9 to 16 mph (14 to 26 km/h), and the threshold level for a full deployment is about 18 to 25 mph (29 to 40 km/h). The threshold level can vary, however, with specific vehicle design, so that it can be somewhat above or below this range.

Frontal airbags may inflate at different crash speeds. For example:

• If the vehicle hits a stationary object, the airbags could inflate at a different crash speed than if the vehicle hits a moving object.
• If the vehicle hits an object that deforms, the airbags could inflate at a different crash speed than if the vehicle hits an object that does not deform.
• If the vehicle hits a narrow object (like a pole), the airbags could inflate at a different crash speed than if the vehicle hits a wide object (like a wall).
• If the vehicle goes into an object at an angle, the airbags could inflate at a different crash speed than if the vehicle goes straight into the object.

Frontal airbags (driver and right front passenger) are not intended to inflate during vehicle rollovers, rear impacts, or in many side impacts.

Your vehicle has seat position sensors which enables the sensing system to monitor the position of the driver’s seat and the right front passenger’s seat. Seat position sensors provide information that is used to determine if the airbags should deploy at a reduced level or at full deployment.

Your vehicle may or may not have roof-mounted airbags and a rollover sensor. These “rollover capable” airbags are intended to inflate in moderate to severe side crashes or during a rollover.

A roof-mounted airbag will inflate if the crash severity is above the system’s designed “threshold level.” The threshold level can vary with specific vehicle design. Roof-mounted airbags are not intended to inflate in frontal or near-frontal impacts, or rear impacts. Both roof-mounted airbags will deploy when either side of the vehicle is struck or during a rollover.

In any particular crash, no one can say whether an airbag should have inflated simply because of the damage to a vehicle or because of what the repair costs were. For frontal airbags, inflation is determined by what the vehicle hits, the angle of the impact, and how quickly the vehicle slows down. For roof-mounted airbags, inflation is determined by the location and severity of the impact.

The airbag system is designed to work properly under a wide range of conditions, including off-road usage. Observe safe driving speeds, especially on rough terrain. As always, wear your safety belt.

    See also:

    Maintenance When Trailer Towing
    Your vehicle will need service more often when you’re pulling a trailer. See the Maintenance Schedule for more on this. Things that are especially important in trailer operation are automatic tr ...

    Diagnostics
    OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics will perform a vehicle check every month. It will check the engine, transmission, antilock brakes, and major vehicle systems. It also checks the tire pressures, if ...

    Scanning the Terrain
    Off-road driving can take you over many different kinds of terrain. You need to be familiar with the terrain and its many different features. Here are some things to consider. Surface Conditio ...