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GM Introduces First-Ever Front Center Airbag

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GM Front Center Air Bag Double Occupant ComparisonGeneral Motors (GM) has announced it will be offering a new airbag in several of its 2013 models, one that will open up in the front center of the car in far-side impact collisions. In a first for the auto industry, the airbag will protect drivers and front passengers who are on the opposite side of the car from side-impact crashes. This feature is expected to provide safety in rollovers as well.

The new front-center airbag will be standard on 2013 Acadia and Traverse models with power seats and all Enclaves. The 2012 model year editions of these mid-size crossovers received five-star Overall and Side Crash safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) New Car Assessment Program, and 2011 Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

GM decided to add the front center airbags after analyzing NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System database. The database showed that such far-side impact crashes are the cause of 11% of the fatalities in which front seat victims were wearing seatbelts in non-rollover car accidents between 2004 and 2009 involving 1999 or newer model year vehicles.

As business writer Chrissie Thompson reports in the Detroit Free Press,

One GM crash test showed the risk: The side impact snapped the driver’s side dummy’s head into the passenger with a force that was 99% likely to provide a skull fracture or brain injury, said Scott Thomas, senior staff engineer for advanced airbag systems.

“While no restraint technology can address all body regions or all potential injuries, the front center air bag is designed to work with the other air bags and safety belts in the vehicles to collectively deliver an even more comprehensive occupant restraint system,” said Gay Kent, GM executive director of Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness. “The front center airbag has real potential to save lives in side crashes,” said Adrian Lund, president of the insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  “GM and Takata are to be commended for taking the lead in this important area.”

GM News explains how the front center airbag will work:

The front center air bag deploys from the right side of the driver’s seat and positions itself between the front row seats near the center of the vehicle. This tethered, tubular air bag is designed to provide restraint during passenger-side crashes when the driver is the only front occupant, and also acts as an energy absorbing cushion between driver and front passenger in both driver- and passenger-side crashes.

In addition, GM announced another new safety feature, a camera-based crash warning system. The camera beeps and displays or flashes a dashboard light when a driver is getting too close to the vehicle in front or when the driver’s car is drifting out of lane. The system is available on the 2012 GMC Terrain and Chevrolet Equinox for $295 on higher-end V6 engine versions and will be available early next year on four-cylinder, lower-trim Terrains and Equinoxes. Radar-powered crash alert systems, available on many luxury cars, cost a lot more.

The following video shows comparisons of tests with and without a front center airbag, and with a crash test dummy driver alone and a driver with a passenger:

Image by General Motors, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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