One of the biggest auto-scandals in recent years took place last year, when millions of cars were recalled due to problems with Takata airbags, where it was discovered that in humid environments the casing had warped, meaning that when the bags were deployed during an accident they could send shrapnel into the driver and passengers instead of cushioning them. It was linked with at least six deaths and has caused millions in losses for many car makers and a killing of Takata’s reputation. To try and fix that problem, the company and many car makers are turning to new materials that will help prevent such an issue from happening again.
Using new composite materials for the construction of the airbags is the first step, according to The Hill. It would mean they wouldn’t be affected by humidity and other environmental factors and could even potentially let them cushion any shrapnel that is sent flying during an accident, by making them pierce proof. This would not only go a long way to help fix the problem of existing Takata airbags it suggests, but could also improve the public and regulators’ opinions of how safe airbags really are.
However it will take some time for this to go ahead, even if it is given the thumbs up by manufacturers. As it stands, some 16 million cars need to have their airbags replaced as part of the recall and it is expected that just the manufacturing of the replacements could take as long as two years and that’s not to mention the fact that companies need to make new airbags for all of the new cars being produced today.
But if may be new materials that really bring safety into the 21st century with new vehicles. As manufacturing techniques improve, newer, stronger and more versatile materials like carbon fibre are allowing for much safer cars than ever before. Single part carbon fibre bodies are offering much stronger protection from harm than traditional multi-part steel panelling and due to it being produced synthetically from recycled plastic and other materials, it can be produced to an exact strength and weight, thereby allowing for more informed construction that should yield safety benefits in the event of a crash.
That said though, perhaps industry regulations will be the greatest help to consumers in improving our safety. Honda was found guilty during investigations of not keeping proper safety records for its vehicles and thereby allowing the problems to go undiscovered for almost a decade. It was ultimately fined some $70 million for failing to keep an eye on the numbers of people being injured in its vehicles throughout much of the ’00s and senators are now pushing to have Takata brought up on criminal charges for its negligence too.
All in all, it sounds like cars are going to become safer in a number of interesting ways over the next few years, though which will have the most effect remains to be seen.
Image source: Circula Seguro