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Crash Test Dummies

Crash Test Dummies

Credit: smjbk
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smjb/8107539280
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Those poor crash test dummies! They receive the brunt of the injuries when cars are tested for safety. But thanks to the dummies, cars have become much safer. One of the biggest advances in car safety has been the development of airbags.

Why It Matters

  • There’s no question that airbags save lives. For example, dashboard airbags reduce driver deaths by 29 percent and deaths of front-seat passengers (age 13 and older) by 32 percent.
  • Airbags cushion your head or body when the car stops suddenly. For example, a dashboard airbag protects you from smashing into the dash due to your forward momentum in a head-on collision.
  • Credit: Jon Seidman
    Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonseidman1988/4328474362
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    The airbag opens up, creating a soft cushion before impact [Figure2]


  • Do you know how airbags work? What causes an airbag to suddenly inflate? Both chemistry and physics explain how airbags work, and all of it happens in less than the blink of an eye!
  • You can see how airbags protect crash test dummies in head-on collisions by watching this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NACA1W2A5Wk

Can You Apply It?

Learn about the chemistry and physics of airbags and gases at the links below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. What are the three main parts of an airbag?
  2. How much force is needed to trigger the inflation of an airbag?
  3. Describe the chemical reaction that causes an airbag to inflate.
  4. Why does an airbag have many tiny holes in it?
  5. What is Charles’ law? How does it help explain the inflation of airbags? (Hint: the gas that inflates airbags is hot.)

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: smjbk; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smjb/8107539280; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Jon Seidman; Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonseidman1988/4328474362; License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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