General Motors unveils front center airbag
By CHERYL JENSEN Motor Matters August 30, 2012 4:17PM
Crash test dummies involved in a side impact collision with General Motors' new front center air bag, the industry's first inflatable center restraint designed to help protect drivers and front passengers in side impact crashes Thursday, September 29, 2011 in Milford, Michigan. The front center air bag will be introduced on the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Chevrolet Traverse midsize crossovers in the 2013 model year. (General Motors Handout Photo)
General Motors recently unveiled an industry first: a front center airbag designed to better protect front-seat occupants on the far side of the vehicle in a side-impact crash.
This safety feature will be standard on 2013 GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse models with power seats and standard on all Buick Enclaves. The front center airbag deploys from the right (inboard) side of the driver’s seat and inflates adjacent to the center console into a position between the front seats. It is a tubular-shaped bag and tethered to the seat.
In what are called “far-side” crashes, when the hit is on the driver’s side, the front seat passenger flies over to the driver’s side. When the hit is on the passenger’s side, the driver flies over to the passenger’s side.
The airbag is designed to be a restraint and to reduce the likelihood that the driver, passenger or both will be thrown to the opposite side of the vehicle in these far-side crashes.
When a driver is the only one in front, the airbag is designed to keep the driver from being thrown to the passenger’s side of the vehicle by the force of an impact on the passenger’s side. By restraining drivers, the center airbag can keep driver’s head from hitting the passenger’s seat — or anything intruding into the vehicle on the far side.
GM’s front center airbag is also designed to serve as a buffer between the driver and front-seat passenger in both driver- and passenger-side impacts. It also will deploy in rollovers and provide a cushion between front occupants.
It is designed to better protect drivers and passengers who are doing everything right by wearing their seat belts. But in these crashes, the three-point seatbelts in our vehicles do not provide enough protection from this type of impact.
In a far-side impact it’s very easy for the occupant to slip out of the shoulder belt and then start leaning or tipping across the vehicle head first, said Scott Thomas, a senior safety engineer for General Motors and one of the people who worked on this airbag.
“Then the head or torso can strike any object that’s intruding into the vehicle, the center console, the opposite seat or the other occupant,” he said.
The front center airbag was developed by GM and automotive supplier Takata over a three-year period. There is no federal regulation that requires vehicles to have front center airbags.
This airbag has the potential to save lives in these far-side crashes, said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit group financed by the insurance industry.
Up to now the auto industry and safety community have focused on equipping vehicles with the current side-impact airbags that protect people sitting on the side of the vehicle where the crash occurs, called near-side crashes, Lund said. And the reason is because these near-side crashes are responsible for more deaths and serious injuries.
“We have worked on the biggest piece by looking at near-side crashes and how do we protect against them,” Lund said. “It is to GM and Takata’s credit that they got together and developed this airbag to begin to deal with this situation of far-side impacts and especially side impacts where you have two occupants in the same seating row.”
If you are the near-side occupant, say the driver being hit on the driver’s side of the vehicle, “you are already in trouble,” Lund said. And then you are in further danger of becoming the airbag for the passenger on the far side of the vehicle who has slipped out of the shoulder belt and is being propelled your way by the force of the impact, he said.
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