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Future Airbags to Protect Pedestrians, Too

External Airbag Test @ 25mph
External Airbag Test @ 25mph

Good news for cyclist and pedestrians, tomorrow’s vehicles might have airbags! Wait, don’t most vehicles come with airbags these days? Of course, airbags in a modern vehicle are a major part of an entire safety system designed to protect the driver and his passengers in the even of a crash.

The number of airbags increases every couple of years, including in the passenger’s chest and face, knees, shoulders, and even inflating seat belts. Other parts of the safety system might include active seat belts and head rests, crush or crumple zones, and a reinforced cabin.

This is all well and good, but is basically meaningless unless you are inside the cabin when there is an accident. Outside the vehicle, pedestrians and cyclists don’t even make a dent in the crush zone. More likely, an impact with a pedestrian is going to lead him straight to the hospital, if he survives the impact.

With the introduction of electrified vehicles, which make even less noise than conventional vehicles, and the increasing number of cyclists, there is more chance of this happening. Advances in sound technology might help, but what if there is an accident?

This is where the new airbags come in, not in the cabin, but on the outside of the vehicle, to protect the pedestrian or cyclist. Engineers have been working on making crush zones that are easier on pedestrians, and the next logical step, of course, is to have automatic airbags on the exterior of the vehicle.

Danish design company TNO is working on exactly this, an automatically-deployed airbag that covers the windshield and a-pillars. In the event of an impending impact, determined by camera and computers, the airbag protects the pedestrian’s or cyclist’s head from impacting the windshield. The 2013 Volvo V40 is actually already equipped with a similar pedestrian-safety system, but only in Europe for now.

As a driver, this kind of freaks me out, and I wonder how fool-proof the system is, or if I’ll be blinded when a bird flies in low over my hood. As a pedestrian and occasional cyclist, though, this sounds like good news, but until it makes it here to the US, be careful whether you’re driving, walking, or cycling.

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