• Sep 24th 2010 at 5:29PM
  • 31
The airbag turns 30 – Click above for high-res image gallery

No, the above headline isn't a greeting for your spouse on his or her special day – Daimler is celebrating the airbag's 30th anniversary. Three decades ago, the very first production car with the life-saving safety tech rolled off the line, kicking off an industry-wide push for ever safer vehicles in the process. That car was an S-Class sedan, and Mercedes-Benz says that the company had poured a total of 13 years of research and development into the project before it ever hit the street. Today, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says that airbags have helped to save around 28,000 lives since the technology was first introduced – and that's just in the good old U.S. of A.

The government safety authority also says that in a typical accident, a driver wearing his or her seatbelt in a vehicle with an airbag is 61 percent less likely to be injured than those who skip the belt in vehicles with no airbag. There's no arguing that we've come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

These days, you'd be hard pressed to find a vehicle without at least some form of supplemental restraint, and Mercedes-Benz says that all of its products have featured a standard driver airbag since 1992. Hit the jump for the full press blast – but not before checking the high-res gallery below for some retro S-Class fabulousness.

[Source: Mercedes-Benz]

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Anniversary of a life-saving innovation: The airbag first entered series production 30 years ago


Sep 24, 2010

30 years ago, the first series-production car equipped with an airbag left the Mercedes-Benz assembly line in Sindelfingen: an S-Class Saloon. This brought to an end more than 13 years of development time for the first driver airbag at Mercedes-Benz, and a new era in vehicle safety began. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the airbag has saved more than 28,000 human lives in the USA to date. Mercedes-Benz made the airbag available in series-production cars long before other manufacturers, and has meanwhile equipped millions of vehicles with this protective system. Since October 1992 a driver airbag has been standard equipment in all passenger cars bearing the Mercedes star.

The fact that more and more vehicles are being equipped with life-saving airbag systems is one of the reasons for the rapid and continuous decline in the number of road accident victims in Germany. The Federal Statistical Office has just released provisional figures for the first half of 2010: "Provisional figures show that there were 1675 road traffic fatalities in Germany from January to the end of June 2010. This was 291 or 15 percent fewer people than in the first half of 2009. This reduction is all the more remarkable because a heavy decline was already recorded in the first half of the previous year. This very positive development in the first six months of 2010 indicates that this year, we can expect the number of road traffic fatalities to fall below 4000 for the first time."

A recent study by the NHTSA in the USA examined the effectiveness of belt and airbag systems, and came to impressive conclusions: "Compared to an occupant not wearing a seat belt in a vehicle with no airbag, the statistical probability of fatal injury with an airbag and seat belt is 61 percent lower." In its study the NHTSA also pointed out the importance of avoiding accidents with very high collision speeds.

These are findings already known to Mercedes-Benz accident researchers long ago, and they have therefore been part of the brand's comprehensive approach to safety for many years:

* Mercedes-Benz was also the world pioneer in the field of handling safety systems such as ESP®. The aim of these is to prevent accidents when the driver has lost control of the vehicle.
* With PRE-SAFE®, which has been available exclusively in Mercedes models since 2002, the company's approach is to use anticipatory safety measures to avoid accidents completely, mitigate their severity and reduce the loads acting on vehicle occupants.
* Improvement and extension of protective systems: after driver and front passenger airbags, Mercedes-Benz developed sidebags and headbags for protection during lateral collisions – with great success: according to the findings of in-house accident researchers, the probability of serious or fatal injury in the event of a lateral collision in a vehicle equipped with headbags is reduced by more than half. The proportion of seriously and fatally injured occupants in lateral collisions fell significantly in the cases examined.
* Protective systems are becoming more and more intelligent: belt tensioners improve the protective effect of seat belts. Multi-stage airbags respond according to accident severity. All in all, the control systems for these onboard safety features now have the processing power of the 'supercomputers' used in space exploration 25 years ago.

Despite the large number of lives saved, as well as continuous improvements to these protection systems, sceptics still occasionally pose the question whether the airbag can also be dangerous. This is a question that almost brought development of the airbag to a stop in the early years: during the first tests in the early 1970s, a fatality occurred in the USA. This caused practically all car manufacturers to cease their development efforts for the time being. Only Mercedes-Benz continued to believe in the protective effect and feasibility of airbag systems – and after intensive development work driven by a large measure of pioneering spirit, the company introduced the first mature, series-production airbags in Mercedes-Benz cars in 1980.

Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of airbag systems since then. One such study by the NHTSA published in January 2009 documented their great life-saving potential: since their introduction, airbags have saved a total of 28,244 lives in the USA: 23,127 drivers (of whom 13,999 were not wearing a seat belt) and 5117 front passengers (of whom 2883 were not wearing a seat belt) owe their lives to the airbag.

All safety experts agree that the airbag can never be a substitute for seat belts.
It is only in conjunction with a seat belt that it becomes an optimally coordinated system that demonstrably makes a major contribution to the prevention of severe or fatal injuries to the occupants during serious accidents.

This is also shown in a study conducted by the German Road Traffic Office (Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen - BASt), which states: "During collisions with oncoming traffic, passive safety features such as airbags and seat belts mitigate the severity of the accident by a very significant 42 percent in new vehicles, compared to 14 percent for older vehicles."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Airbags are dumb. They add cost, complexity, weight, restrictions on steering wheeel and dash design, and risk of being injured by the airbag. Just wear your seatbelts, people. I find it incredible that there are jurisdictions that still don't have seatbelt laws. People think we can't restrict personal freedom, but what about my freedom to buy a lighter and cheaper to own and repair car that doesn't have air bags.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Actually the first cars to ever offer a form of airbags were Fords at the beginning of the 1970's, I believe. GM followed shortly thereafter. Nonetheless, both began their research after Daimler who started looking into the technology in the 1960's. Also, Ford's and GM's early airbag technology wasn't what we commonly think of as modern airbags. That honor goes to the 1980 Mercedes S-Class. All airbag technology today is based on the design Daimler introduced.
      • 4 Years Ago
      For real autoblog, do your own research before you post articles that are false

      As a supplement to seat belts

      Airbags for passenger cars were introduced in the United States in the mid-1970s, when seat belt usage rates in the country were quite low. Ford built an experimental fleet of cars with airbags in 1971, followed by General Motors in 1973 on Chevrolet vehicles. The early fleet of experimental GM vehicles equipped with airbags experienced seven fatalities, one of which was later suspected to have been caused by the airbag.[9]

      In 1974, GM made the ACRS or "Air Cushion Restraint System" available as a regular production option (RPO code AR3) in some full-size Buick, Cadillac and Oldsmobile models. The GM cars from the 1970s equipped with ACRS have a driver side airbag, a driver side knee restraint (which consists of a padded lower dashboard) and a passenger side airbag. The passenger side airbag, protects both front passengers and unlike most newer ones, it integrates a knee cushion, a torso cushion and it also has dual stage deployment which varies depending on the force of the impact. The cars equipped with ACRS have lap belts for all seating positions but they do not have shoulder belts. These were already mandatory equipment in the United States on closed cars without airbags for the driver and outer front passenger seating positions.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Is it a co-birthday with the beloved alternate solution (until airbags became mandatory), the automatic seatbelt?

      • 4 Years Ago
      What a farce. The press release says that the probability of a fatal injury in a car accident in a car WITH an airbag AND a seat belt is 61% lower than in a car accident in a car WITHOUT an airbag and WITHOUT a seatbelt. Why not compare apples to apples? Compare two airbag-equipped cars, but one with belts and one without. That will give you an idea of the effectiveness of airbags. I'm willing to bet it would be A LOT lower than the 61% mentioned in the press release.

      In fact, the NHTSA claims that 28,000 lives have been saved by airbags in the 30 or 40 years that they've been around. However, by the NHTSA's own numbers, nearly 17,000 (approx. 60%) of those people WERE NOT WEARING A SEAT BELT!

      That leaves approximately 11,000 people saved by airbags. 11,000 people in 30 years (or 40, depends who you ask) is less than one person a day. Americans drive approximately EIGHT BILLION miles a day (unbelievable but true: 3 trillion miles per year: http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_32.html). So ONE person saved for every EIGHT BILLION miles driven, in my humble opinion, is nothing to write home about.

      I'd be willing to bet that the advent of all-season radial tires can be linked to saving more lives (on a per miles driven basis) than airbags (and no, I don't work for a tire company LOL). If you ask me, airbags are not worth the costs they add to vehicles (design, installation, repairs, insurance premiums, etc).

      If I could choose a factory delete option for airbags from the factory when buying a new vehicle, I would. And I suspect I'm not the only one. How about an AB poll?

      PS I'd probably also go for the factory delete on traction control and other types of stability systems (except ABS, I'd keep that). Anyone else? Anyone? Bueller?
        • 4 Years Ago
        How shocking! Don't you know the government knows what's best for you? That's why airbags are mandatory. And the hundreds of pounds of reinforcements to meet side impact standards. Oh yeah, and those tire pressure monitoring systems that are going to be mandatory shortly.

        Anyway, I agree with you. Ever have to replace an airbag after it went off during a minor fender-bender? It isn't cheap, and it sure doesn't help save many lives in low speed situations. I've always believed the best way to not get hurt in a wreck is not to get into one. Don't talk, text, eat, and groom yourself while driving. Pay attention to your surroundings. How about that instead of building cars like tanks to survive crashes?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Happy to see it's still being improved too.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ok, I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one confused by that article. I was certain GM did airbags first...
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yeah, I know for a fact that the 1973 Caprice/Impala had airbags as an option. That is definetly more than 30 years, and definetly not Daimler.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I will toast to you tonight
      • 4 Years Ago
      Last Father's day I saw a 1974 Olds Toronado that was equipped with airbags.

      I think that car was more than 30 years old.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I thought they meant O'Baa Maa, the bleating heart sheeples' messiah; that, windbag...
      • 4 Years Ago
      As soon as I read this article's ludicrous headline, I couldn't wait to get to the comment section to disagree with Mercedes arrogant airbag claim! I'm glad there are plenty of others whose memories regarding airbags are superior to those of the Mercedes PR people and Autoblog's editorial staff.
      Some GM corporate fleet Oldsmobiles had airbags in the late 1960s.
      As these cars made their way to private hands, many owners learned for the first time that the cars had airbags when they had their first crash.
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