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Notes From the Road

Passive Safety Technologies
By The Editors/

Side Airbags
What they are: Located in the side bolsters of the driver's and front passenger's seats, side airbags deploy during a certain side impacts to help provide protection for the thorax.

How they work: As with frontal airbags, side-impact airbags deploy when side-impact sensors trigger an electrical circuit to ignite a gas generator. In just milliseconds the side airbags inflate forward from the outside of the seats.

How they benefit the passengers: Side airbags help reduce driver and front-passenger thorax injuries in a side impact. The reason is because the sides of a vehicle offer a much smaller deformable area than the "crumple zones" (see below) in the front and rear of a vehicle.

Side Curtain Airbags
What they are: The natural complement to side airbags, side curtain airbags help protect the heads of the driver and outboard passengers in certain side impacts. They are hidden above the headliner, directly above the side windows.

How they work: As with frontal and side airbags, curtain side airbags deploy when side-impact sensors trigger an electrical circuit to ignite a gas generator. As they inflate, the side curtain airbags descend from the headliner to help offer a protective curtain covering the side windows.

How they benefit the passengers: Head injuries are among the most traumatic kinds of injuries that a person can sustain. Side curtain airbags help provide a potentially lifesaving layer of protection between the occupant's head and the side pillar of the car, or an object outside of the car.

Belt Systems
What they are: Seatbelts, including shoulder harnesses, are the first line of defense against injury in an automobile accident. Manufactured from strong synthetic webbing, they help hold the wearer in place during a collision, helping to control their rate of deceleration. All outboard seating positions on new vehicles feature seatbelts that are integral with shoulder harnesses (although some center belts on bench seats do not).

How they work: A surprising number of technologies have improved seatbelt design since their inception many years ago. Emergency Locking Retractors (ELR) allow the wearer freedom of movement while driving, but lock the seatbelt in place in a collision. Automatic Locking Retractors (ALR) allow manual locking of the seatbelt to secure a child seat. Pretensioners use a pyrotechnic device to pull the seatbelt tight immediately following a collision. And force limiters allow the seatbelt to "stretch" during a collision to more gradually decelerate the wearer.

How they benefit the passengers: The seatbelt's first and most important task is to keep the wearer in place during a collision, helping reduce the chance that he or she will be ejected from the vehicle or strike other occupants or injurious surfaces inside the car. Technologies like pretensioners and force limiters enhance their ability to control the wearer's rate of deceleration in an accident.

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