Pedestrian Airbags: Next Big Thing or Full of Hot Air?

Volvo exterior airbag

It’s not enough to be safe *inside* a Volvo.

Maybe the interior safety threshold has been met, or maybe engineers just wanted a challenging new project. Whatever the case, it seems pedestrians who might end up on the unfortunate end of a Volvo’s grille will be protected, too.

Yes, starting with the new V40, Volvo will introduce the first pedestrian airbags.

Though not likely to show up in the U.S., the system could save lives of people hit by cars in Europe. In the early 2000s, European lawmakers wanted to try and reduce the number of people killed or injured in crosswalk collisions involving cars. The legislation is a complicated topic, but the end results are quite fascinating.

Jaguar developed a system that lifts the hood of the car if it senses it has hit a pedestrian, providing a cushion of sorts between the hood and the hard engine components below.

Volvo’s system goes a few steps further and constantly scans the vehicle’s surrounding area for impending collisions with people. If it senses trouble, the system can apply the brakes if a driver doesn’t respond in time. If that fails and the system determines a human has been hit, an airbag deploys under the hood, lifting it slightly to absorb the impact of the person’s body. The airbag also extends up to partially cover the windshield.

As you might expect, I have an opinion here.

This is absurd. It seems like there’s more risk for a misfire than a benefit in actually saving people. What if a driver pulls an inch too far into the garage and taps the bumper on something? Poof! What if pranksters make a habit out of seeing how many airbags they can deploy? Bang! What if the car hits a large cat but thinks it hit a human leg? Expensive!

Maybe I’m too old-fashioned, but I believe pedestrians should be able to look out for themselves, and I believe drivers should be on alert in city settings. Not hitting people is one of the first things learned in driver’s ed courses, and I don’t think we need airbags to protect the people who didn’t pass that class.

Exterior pedestrian airbags: A good idea or not?


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1 Comment

  1. This issue illustrates one of the major differences between Europe and the USA. Europe is highly urbanized and the rate of pedestrian contact is far higher than the USA because most European driving takes place in cities, towns and villages. Add in sharp twisty streets and far more pedestrians and you can see why authorities are concerned. Having lived there for awhile, from my experience one problem is that drivers are going too fast in dense urban areas. Paris was the worst– I sometimes felt I was watching a car chase being filmed because traffic was going so fast.

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