Frontal air bags are generally designed to deploy in "moderate to severe" frontal or near-frontal crashes, which are defined as crashes that are equivalent to hitting a solid, fixed barrier at 8 to 14 mph or higher. (This would be equivalent to striking a parked car of similar size at about 16 to 28 mph or higher.)
The model year of your vehicle will tell you in some cases. Since model year 1998, all passenger cars have been required to have frontal air bags for the driver and the right front passenger seating positions. Starting in model year 1999, all light trucks - pickups, vans, and SUVs with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR*) of 8,500 lbs. or less - have been required to have frontal air bags for the driver and the right front passenger. In addition, your vehicle owner's manual should provide information on whether a vehicle has air bags.
For some vehicles equipped with frontal air bags, SRS, SIR or SRS/Air Bag will be embossed on the air bag cover in the center of the steering wheel (for the driver) and on the dashboard (for the right front passenger). Also, you can check your vehicle for air bag warning labels, which are typically located on the vehicle's sun visors.
Side-impact and rollover air bags are not required by the government; however, they are offered as either a standard or optional feature by many vehicle manufacturers. Again, read your owner's manual and look for SRS or Side Air Bag embossed on areas such as the outboard side of the seat back, the door panel, or the overhead roof rail.
* The GVWR is the weight of the vehicle itself plus the maximum weight of cargo and passengers that can be safely loaded in the vehicle, as specified by the manufacturer. The label indicating GVWR is usually located on your driver's side door jamb or door.
No. When NHTSA changed its air bag testing requirements in 1997, many manufacturers reduced the inflation power, or aggressiveness, of first generation air bags to lessen the likelihood of air bag-related injuries and deaths. These less powerful air bags are known as "depowered" air bags and began appearing in vehicles that same year.
Advanced frontal air bag systems are a next-generation air bag system designed to be even more effective than depowered air bags in saving lives - while at the same time reducing the potential of causing an air bag-induced serious injury or death to children and small-stature adults.
No. Please keep in mind that placing a child in the front seat, no matter what the circumstances, comes with increased risk. Frontal impact crashes represent 59 percent of passenger vehicle "tow-away" crashes and result in 38 percent of passenger-vehicle occupant fatalities (2002-2006 National Automotive Sampling System - Crashworthiness Data System, 2006 Fatality Analysis Reporting System). NHTSA recommends that all children under 13 ride in the rear seat in the appropriate child restraint system: an infant in a rear-facing infant seat, a child in a forward-facing child restraint, an older child in a booster seat, and a child who is large enough in an adult seat belt. (For additional information on appropriate child safety restraint systems, see NHTSA's 4 Steps for Kids.)
It is important for consumers to know that the proper operation of some advanced frontal air bag systems is highly dependent on the pressure (also known as "loading") placed on the seat bottom by the occupant.
Situations that add ("onload") or subtract ("offload") sensed weight can result in an occupant misclassification. If "onload" or "offload" conditions should occur, an unexpected "PASS AIR BAG OFF" (or "PASSENGER AIR BAG OFF") indicator light status may result. If, according to your owner's manual, the light should be illuminated and it's not, or the light should be "off" and it's illuminated, consult your owner's manual to find out how to correct the problem.
Your manual may recommend you check the following:
Dual-stage, multi-stage, or variable output are terms used to describe the operation of the air bag inflators in your air bag system that cause the air bag to fill. For dual stage or multi-stage inflators, the inflators may go off in two or more stages (steps) to tailor the amount of pressure in the frontal air bag during a crash. For a variable output inflator, the inflator can tailor the output across a range of inflation pressures.
In general, for less severe crashes requiring less inflation force, only one stage of a dual-stage/multi-stage inflator may go off, or there may be less output pressure from a variable output inflator. Both result in a lower-pressure air bag deployment. For more severe crashes, all stages of a dual-stage/multi-stage inflator may go off at the same time or there may be full output from a variable output inflator. Both result in a higher-pressure air bag deployment.
The activation of an air bag in a crash is dependent on several important factors including: the characteristics of the crash (e.g., speed, other vehicle(s) involved, impact direction, etc.); the individual vehicle air bag system's design strategy; and the crash sensor locations. Air bags are not intended to deploy in all crashes. There may be circumstances when an air bag does not deploy. Some possible examples follow:
Any air bag that fails to deploy in an injury-producing crash should be reported to NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation for investigation of possible system defects and potential recall. You can file such a report online HERE, by phone at 888-327-4236, or by mail at the following address: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Office of Defects Investigation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC, 20590.
No. Once deployed, an air bag - whether advanced frontal or other type - cannot be re-used and must be replaced by an authorized service technician without delay.
Yes. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208 (Advanced Air Bag) rule requires that all light vehicles (passenger cars and light duty trucks) must meet specific safety performance criteria for dummies representing 12-month-old infants, 3-year-old toddlers, 6-year-old children, and small-stature women.
For those manufacturers electing to suppress (not deploy) an air bag for an infant or child occupant in all crashes, the occupant-sensing devices in their advanced frontal air bag systems have been tested with child-sized dummies, representing an infant in a child safety seat and small children in and out of child safety seats, to ensure that the air bag will turn itself off.
For those manufacturers electing to provide a lower-powered air bag deployment for a child occupant in certain low-speed crashes, the advanced passenger frontal air bag must meet specific safety criteria as set in FMVSS No. 208.
Yes. To minimize the potential of any air bag-related injury, NHTSA still recommends keeping a 10-inch minimum between the air bag cover (in the center of the steering wheel for drivers and on the dashboard for the right front passenger), maintaining a proper seating position, and moving the seat as far back as possible (drivers should be able to comfortably reach the pedals.)