Accident prevention has evolved so much in modern automobiles that Mercedes-Benz is now focusing its efforts on diminishing the effects of collisions. The most innovative safety advancement on the horizon may be the braking bag — an airbag for your car that inflates 80 to 100 milliseconds before collision to dilute the physics of impact.
The German manufacturer detailed upcoming advancements in its traveling safety showcase, the ESF 2009 (a Mercedes S400 hybrid), for the automotive media at its U.S. headquarters in Montvale, N.J.
Among the ESF 2009's safety features, not yet available, are: the braking bag; gas-fired metal guardrails in the side doors; an innovative child safety seat that is open in the back; interior airbags to protect occupants in rollovers (i.e. so they don't land on each other); and, a shoulder-strap belt bag for rear-seat passengers.
"The idea behind the braking bag is to decelerate [the car] faster than you can," said Michael Fehring, ESF project manager. The braking bag is installed between the front axle carrier and the underbody paneling, according to Mercedes. When a collision is imminent, the bag, coated with rubber and steel for friction, inflates.
That serves to slow the car down and at the same time lifts it approximately three inches, reducing the diving effect normally associated with emergency braking. The vertical boost makes the car heavier for faster deceleration and helps line it up better with the car it is striking for a better disbursement of energy, according to David Selke, senior Mercedes staff engineer. He said that creates a virtual crumple zone that is six to eight inches longer.
Another advantage of the braking bag, Mercedes officials said, is the vertical movement also makes the vehicle's restraint systems more efficient. The seats move toward the occupants by about an inch, which allows the belt tensioners to grab tighter.
Fehring would not say when the braking bag would come to market.
Keith Griffin is the used car guide at About.com and the founder of the Internet Car and Truck of the Year award.
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