6 Most Common Types of Airbags (Full Guide)

As cars have developed, a variety of different airbags have developed with them, which are designed to protect the passengers in the car during an accident.

Of course, different cars have different types of airbags, which are all designed for different purposes. Below, we’ll take a look at all the different types of airbags out there and go over their uses.

Different Types of Airbags

Frontal airbags are the most common and oldest airbags, and were designed to protect the driver from impact with the steering wheel. Side airbags are newer and protect the passengers from hitting the side of the car. Rear airbags, knee airbags, pedestrian airbags, and inflatable seat belts are less common, but they are picking up steam.

For more useful facts and information, keep reading about all the different types of airbags below!

1. Side Airbags

As the name suggests, these airbags go on the side of the car. They are designed to protect your head and neck from side impacts and are designed to inflate during side crashes only. During side crashes, there is a lot of energy that can throw the occupants against the side of the car.

For this reason, head and neck injuries from hitting the window and door can occur. However, side airbags are there to prevent this from happening.

These airbags spread out the force of the side-impact, eliminating concentrated impact forces that cause injury. Therefore, side airbags can do a lot to prevent side injuries.

In many cases, an inflated head side airbag may be the only thing preventing the passenger’s head from going out an open window or against broken glass.

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Because of the limited space between the side of the car and the people inside, side airbags have to come out very quickly. They come out somewhere in the first 10-20 milliseconds of the crash. In many cases, they can deploy at only eight mph. However, 18 mph is more common.

While side airbags usually only pop out during side impacts, they can also pop out during frontal crashes, depending on the amount of side force that the impact detector senses.

Federally, side airbags are not necessarily required. However, they do require some level of side protection, and side airbags are often the easiest way to achieve this. For this reason, most vehicles now come with these airbags.

2. Frontal Airbags

2. Frontal Airbags

When most people think of airbags, they think of frontal airbags.

These airbags are in the steering wheel and dashboard, and when an impact is detected, they deploy to prevent the passengers from smacking their head on the steering wheel or other objects in the front of the car.

Since the 1999 model year, all vehicles have been required to have these airbags installed, and  are therefore extremely common.

These airbags prevent a person from hitting their head on the front of the car, which can cause head and neck injuries. They are designed to work alongside seatbelts, so they work best when safety belts are used correctly.

If the car has seat belt sensors, then the airbag may or may not come out depending on whether the occupant is wearing their seatbelt. If there is no seatbelt engaged, the airbags typically come out sooner.

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However, if the person is wearing their seatbelt, the car may assume that the belt is quite safe at certain speeds and not deploy the airbags. While airbags are very safe, this may prevent them from accidentally injuring the passengers.

Front airbags often deploy during side crashes as well to provide some additional protection.

Knee airbags are another supplemental frontal airbag that are sometimes used. These airbags are installed underneath the steering wheel to reduce the force on the legs during the impact.

As well, these may also prevent the occupant’s body from moving very much and preventing other injuries.

3. Inflatable Seat Belts

In some cases, inflatable seat belts have been installed in cars. For the most part, these are designed to protect children in the backseat, who often do not have the benefit of having other airbags installed.

These airbags protect from head, chest, and neck injuries, but in order to work properly, the seat belt must be worn correctly.

4. Rear

4. Rear

Rear airbags are mostly designed to prevent backseat passengers from colliding with each other, and may also prevent the back window from injuring the passengers.

Nevertheless, rear airbags are less common, and their effectiveness has not been rated.

5. Pedestrian 

These airbags are designed to protect pedestrians when they are hit by a vehicle. They are on the outside of the car and not designed to protect the passengers but rather the pedestrians.

6. Knee Airbags

 Some cars now include knee airbags, which are installed underneath the steering wheel. This helps provide extra protection when the car gets into a frontal crash.

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The airbags will help protect the driver’s knees and can prevent their body from moving too far forward.

However, the effectiveness of these airbags is quite low.

To know more about airbags, you can also see our posts on the pros & cons of airbags, what are advanced airbags, and what are airbags filled with.


Frontal airbags are the most common and well-known airbag type, and are designed to protect the driver and front-seat passenger from impact with the steering wheel and dashboard.

Side airbags are becoming more common, as they prevent passengers from hitting the side of the car and are most helpful during side impacts. Beyond this, there are other types of airbags, though they are less common.

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