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What are Side Curtain Airbags?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Side curtain airbags are airbags which deploy to protect the head in the event of a side impact collision. In addition to providing protection during a crash, they also prevent people from being ejected from a vehicle during a rollover, reducing the risk of injuries in a rollover. Many vehicles come standard with side curtain airbags, and some governments require them or are considering requiring them for all new vehicles.

It is important to distinguish between side curtain airbags and side impact airbags. Side curtain ones are, almost literally, curtains. They deploy from the roof of the vehicle to cover the windows along an entire side of the vehicle in a crash. If someone is slammed against the window, the airbag protects the head by cushioning the impact and preventing the head from punching through the glass. The airbags stay deployed rather than deflating in a rollover so that people are held inside the car.

Side impact airbags, which deploy from the seat or the door, are designed to protect the torso. They are also very important in a side impact crash, preventing broken ribs. Damage to the ribcage can be extremely painful and potentially fatal, making this form of protection especially important in so-called “T-bone” crashes in which one car crashes into the side of another.

Side curtain airbags are also known as head curtain airbags, referencing the fact that they protect the head. They are usually included in a complete airbag system which includes several other types of airbags set to deploy in the event of a crash. In addition, they are backed up by safety systems like passive restraints, antilock brakes, and so forth, providing as much protection in a crash as possible while also helping drivers avoid crashes.

These airbags appear to be most helpful for full sized adults, according to crash studies. Children and small adults may be too short to be protected by side curtain airbags. It is also important for new vehicle purchasers to be aware that many cars do not come standard with air bag systems in the second or third rows of seating in a vehicle. If protection in these areas is desired, it may be necessary to pay extra or to consider a different vehicle.

It is also advisable to get information about the safety of the airbag system in a car for very young children; while airbag safety is constantly improving, some precautions may need to be taken to prevent children from becoming injured by the airbags in a crash. For example, it is generally recommended that children in carseats be seated in the back, facing towards the back of the vehicle, for safety.

Many governments publish car safety ratings and the result of crash tests for the benefit of citizens researching new car purchases.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Authordor — On Dec 19, 2013
@StarBanobo: Cars in late 1997 were the first to see side curtain airbags used. The BMW 7-series and E39 5-series were fitted with a frame-mounted, tubular shaped head side airbags, a.k.a. the "Head Protection System (HPS)" as standard equipment. Other manufacturers followed suit between 1998-2001. Other improvements and variations to the system were developed and added starting in 2006.
By StarBanobo — On Dec 18, 2013

What was the first year that side curtain air bags were available?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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