ROCKLEIGH, NJ -- After frontal crashes, side impacts are the most serious type of automobile accidents. Because of the small distance between the occupants and the point of impact, side crashes have been a big safety challenge. Now, Volvo is advancing the frontier of automotive safety by introducing a patented seat-mounted air bag system in its 1995 model year 850 sedans and wagons. This system is designed to significantly reduce injuries in side impacts which produce about one-third of all serious crash related injuries. No other car manufacturer currently offers such a system.

The Side Impact Air Bag is located in the outside edge of the seat back of the driver and front passenger seats. Designed to deploy in certain side impacts, the bag acts as a barrier to help prevent contact between the chest and the door. As a secondary benefit, the bag is designed to help reduce head injuries by holding the front seat occupant away from the door, B-pillar and side window. Mounting the Side Impact Air Bag in the seat back instead of the door means it is always in the correct position relative to the occupant, no matter how the seat is adjusted.

Other car companies are considering side impact air bags, but the Side Impact Air Bag system is unique in that it is mechanically triggered, requires no electrical hookup, and is totally contained in the seat. It consists of a bag, a pair of gas generators, and a sensor built into each of the front seats. In a side impact of sufficient force, the sensor mounted on the base of the seat triggers the system when it is contacted by the door. Then, a pyrotechnic charge fires, an ignition charge travels up the seat back via two plastic tubes and activates the gas generators mounted in the seatback. The expanding gases deploy the bag through the seam in the outboard edge of the upholstery. The bag inflates within 4 to 6 milliseconds and the total time to activate the entire system, from first contact to inflation, is less than 12 milliseconds. The bag itself is about a foot long and just over 5 inches in diameter.

Volvo is introducing the system on its 1995 850 model which are arriving at dealerships during September. The Side Impact Air Bag system will be standard equipment on 850 Turbos and an option, priced at $500 on other 850 models. Volvo 940 and 960 models are expected to receive the system by the next model year.

While there is no current legislation which mandates a side impact air bag, Volvo has a long history of introducing safety features before they become a requirement. Examples of this include: the three-point seat belt, front head restraints, laminated windshield, side impact protection, and now, the Side Impact Air Bag. All have helped Volvo earn its legendary reputation for safety.