When Should an Airbag Inflate?

Frontal airbags are designed to inflate in moderate to severe frontal or near frontal crashes to help reduce the potential for severe injuries, mainly to the driver's or front outboard passenger's head and chest. However, they are only designed to inflate if the impact exceeds a predetermined deployment threshold. Deployment thresholds 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 the frontal airbags will or should inflate is not based primarily on how fast the vehicle is traveling.

It depends on what is hit, the direction of the impact, and how quickly the vehicle slows down.

Frontal airbags may inflate at different crash speeds depending on whether the vehicle hits an object straight on or at an angle, and whether the object is fixed or moving, rigid or deformable, narrow or wide.

Thresholds can also vary with specific vehicle design.

Frontal airbags are not intended to inflate during vehicle rollovers, rear impacts, or in many side impacts.

In addition, the vehicle has dual-stage frontal airbags.

Dual-stage airbags adjust the restraint according to crash severity.

The vehicle has electronic frontal sensors, which help the sensing system distinguish between a moderate frontal impact and a more severe frontal impact. For moderate frontal impacts, dual-stage airbags inflate at a level less than full deployment. For more severe frontal impacts, full deployment occurs.

The vehicle has seat-mounted side impact airbags and roof-rail airbags.

See Airbag System.

Seat-mounted side impact and roof-rail airbags are intended to inflate in moderate to severe side crashes depending on the location of the impact. In addition, these roof-rail airbags are intended to inflate during a rollover or in a severe frontal impact. Seat-mounted side impact and roof-rail airbags will inflate if the crash severity is above the system's designed threshold level. The threshold level can vary with specific vehicle design.

Roof-rail airbags are not intended to inflate in rear impacts.

A seat-mounted side impact airbag is intended to inflate on the side of the vehicle that is struck. Both roof-rail airbags will inflate when either side of the vehicle is struck or if the sensing system predicts that the vehicle is about to roll over on its side, or in a severe frontal impact.

In any particular crash, no one can say whether an airbag should have inflated simply because of the vehicle damage or repair costs.

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