An airbag is a vehicle safety device. It is an occupant restraint system consisting of a flexible fabric envelope or cushion designed to inflate rapidly during an automobile collision. Its purpose is to cushion occupants during a crash and protect their bodies when they strike interior objects such as the steering wheel or a window.
Modern vehicles may contain multiple airbag modules in various side and frontal locations of the passenger seating positions, and sensors may deploy one or more airbags in an impact zone at variable rates based on the type, angle, and severity of impact; the airbag is designed to only inflate in moderate to severe frontal crashes.
Airbags are usually designed to supplement the protection of a correctly restrained occupant with a seat belt. Most designs are inflated through pyrotechnic means and can only be operated once. Newer side-impact airbag modules consist of compressed air cylinders triggered in the event of a side-impact vehicle impact. The first commercial designs were introduced in passenger automobiles during the 1970s with limited success.
Broad commercial adoption of airbags occurred in many markets during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a driver airbag and a front passenger airbag on some cars; many modern vehicles now include four or more units.