Airbags: how far have they come and why the Takata recall is so important
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Safety has always been at the forefront of vehicle manufacturers’ priorities. Nowadays, we’re seeing plenty of new safety features that use Artificial Intelligence to significantly reduce the risk of a collision.
Despite this, airbags remain one of the staples of car safety, working alongside seatbelts to protect both the driver and any passengers should an incident occur.
Brief history of the airbag
In 1952, American engineer John W. Hetrick came up with the concept of the airbag. This followed a trip with his family to the Pennsylvania countryside, when a large boulder appeared on the road in front of them and they crashed into a ditch.
The following year, Hetrick was granted his patent for a “safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles”.
The airbag wasn’t seen in production models until the early 1970s, when the Oldsmobile Toronado offered front airbags. The following year Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac offered dual airbags as an option.
Almost two decades later, the technology became commonplace in 1990 when Ford standardised airbags in all its production vehicles. This was also the year that the first recorded incident of two cars, both equipped with airbags, were involved in a head-on collision.
Modern day airbags
On average, modern cars can contain seven airbags but it’s becoming more common to see 10 or more in some of the latest vehicle releases.
This number is set only to increase as safety tests around the world become more stringent.
Swedish company Autoliv specialises in car safety technology and has even developed an airbag that fits in your seatbelt and is designed to reduce the amount of injuries to the ribs and chest.
The next generation
With the potential for multiple airbags fitted to vehicles, it’s more important to ensure child seats and restraints are correctly installed in appropriate locations. The front seat should not be used got children unless absolutely necessary. A rear-facing child seat should never be placed in the front seat, but especially not one one fitted with an airbag. The website childrestraints.co.nz provides more helpful information.
Takata’s unprecedented recall
You may have read in the news about Takata, a Japanese airbag manufacturer at the centre of the biggest automobile recall in New Zealand history and one of the largest global vehicle recalls of all time.
In April 2018, Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi announced the compulsory recall of more than 50,000 vehicles fitted with the company’s Alpha-type airbag. Subsequent updates from manufacturers have raised that number to over 82,000.
Takata’s Alpha-type airbags have been known to malfunction in a crash and explode; sending fragments at vehicle occupants and causing serious injury or, in cases overseas, death.
The aim is to have all affected vehicles recalled by the end of this year, but currently around 24 per cent of the vehicles in question are still driving on our roads.
Though good progress has been made, typically recall rates slow over time and it can be difficult to achieve the last few per cent.
If your vehicle is affected and you ignore the recall, the NZTA is highly likely to require Warrant of Fitness inspectors to fail your vehicle if Alpha airbags have not been replaced. It’s illegal to drive without a valid WoF.
An additional 185,000 vehicles in New Zealand still contain non-Alpha airbags — these are subject to a voluntary recall.
The New Zealand Automobile Association urges you to visit rightcar.govt.nz to find out if your car is affected.
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