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.