How Side Curtain Airbags Work

Side Curtain Airbags in Conjunction With Others

As government safety standards change and the latest technology proves its efficacy, it's helpful to understand how your car's safety systems work together. Side curtains were developed as a supplemental system to offer protection where traditional airbags fell short, but traditional airbags are still essential. They can go by many names, based on original equipment manufacturer (OEM) suppliers, government regulators and auto industry marketing types, but it's important to understand the basic systems and what they do.

Frontal airbags are mounted in the steering wheel and dashboard; side protection systems are mounted in the seat frame or door, which varies according to supplier and automaker. Not all of a car's airbags will deploy in the event of a collision; the airbag system's network of sensors will determine which airbags are needed [source: WIPO]. Here are some of the main types of airbags you might find in your vehicle:

The driver airbag is the one mounted in the steering wheel that protects the driver in most crashes, including front, rear and side impacts [source: Autoliv: Driver]. If the driver is flung forward in a crash, chances are that they will be up close and personal with the driver airbag.

The passenger airbag is similar to the driver airbag and deploys under similar conditions. It is located in the dashboard on most cars [source: Autoliv: Passenger]. This airbag is dangerous for small children and can result in injury or even death.

The thorax bag is estimated to reduce severe chest injury in side impact collisions by 25 percent, according to one manufacturer [source: Autoliv: Thorax]. When deployed, it provides a barrier between the seat occupant and the door.

The head thorax bag is similar to the thorax bag, providing protection from side impact collisions [source: Autoliv: Head]. It is larger, though, to give extra protection to the head also.

The pelvis thorax bag inflates near the hips of the seat occupant to prevent lower body injury during a side impact collision [source: Autoliv: Pelvis]. This airbag is small and deploys very quickly from the seat's frame.

Side curtain airbags are becoming increasingly popular with manufacturers and consumers. Read on to learn about how much they cost and what that may mean for their availability.