How Side Curtain Airbags Work

Benefits of Side Curtain Airbags

We've already talked about how side curtain airbags were first developed to provide head and neck protection to passengers in side collision crashes, by covering all the windows and the pillar trim. But that's not all. Here are a few other ways these airbags can keep you and your passengers safe:

Since side curtains often cover most, if not all, of the window space, they can provide a barrier that helps prevent ejection from the vehicle [source: Safercar]. Even when seatbelts are used properly, a crash might force arms or legs through the windows and subject them to serious injury. The side curtains' internal structure is strong enough to minimize the risk of full or partial ejection. They are also able to keep out intrusions such as metal, broken glass, and other crash debris, cutting down on injuries such as broken bones, cuts and bruises.

Some curtain airbags are specifically designed to provide protection in a rollover crash, a feature first found on the Ford Explorer [source: Edmunds]. Airbags with this benefit feature sensors to notice if a rollover is imminent by monitoring whether the vehicle is tilting. When the bags deploy, they remain inflated longer than their non-rollover counterparts to compensate for the additional time vehicle occupants are in danger. Regular airbags deflate immediately after the impact, usually less than a second after they are deployed. Rollover protection curtains, by comparison, remain inflated for several seconds while people are being tossed around inside the vehicle, and are deployed with cold helium to maintain their volume for an extended period of time. This feature is most often found on SUVs, which are more prone to rollover incidents because of their higher center of gravity.

The reputation of traditional airbags was put at risk when children were hurt by early systems. The technology has been refined, and parents are now cautioned to keep small children away from front and side impact airbags. However, side curtains do not pose these same risks. According to the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety, children may be too small to benefit from the protection offered by a curtain-style airbag, but safety experts agree that children are safe in the presence of these airbags [source: Edmunds]. Unlike front and torso airbags, the curtains' deployment does not cause a high-force intrusion of the occupants' personal space.

Side curtains are designed to work as a complement to traditional airbags, not as a standalone system. Up next, learn about the different types of airbags and how they all work together to keep you safe.