Let's cover the basic definition & meaning of the infamous Air Bag : it is a vehicle safety device that can literally save your life. It's basically an occupant restraint that is designed to inflate fast & automatically whenever you're in an accident, or when your car thinks that you've been hit. This puts a stop to the driver & the passengers hitting the glass or something like the steering wheel or front / side window at a high speed.
There's different producers that have been using different designs of the Car Air Bag and Truck Air Bag throughout the years & the different generations of vehicles. General Motors had their first Air Bag in the 1970s; they marketed them as ACRS - Air Cushion Restraint System. The ordinary terms that have been used in North America have been SRS (Supplemental Restraint System) and SIR (Supplemental Inflatable Restraint). These are the specific terms that show what the Air Bag system is all about. Since the Air Bag doesn't insist on the vehicle occupant to do any sort of action to activate it, the Car Air Bag is known as a "passive device". They are completely opposite to seat belts because when you put your seat belt on, you have to pull it and then buckle it yourself. The Air Bag operates without you having to do any manual work .. except hit a car or something.
In 1952, an American inventor named John W. Hetrick designed a "safety cushion" and patented it as the Air Bag the next year. Its outline was based on his personal experiences with compressed air from things like torpedoes during the service that he did for the U.S. Navy; he also designed it because he needed to protect his family in the car from when they would get into an accident. Not that they got into accidents frequently, just that he wanted them to be safe just in case it did happen. When he first came up with the idea, he was already working with automobile companies, but unfortunately, they didn't take an interest to his idea. They really didn't take an interest until safety devices became mandatory.
By the time safety devices had to be in cars, a guy named Dr. David S. Breed had come up with an alternative component that was used for crash detection. The Breed Corporation then showed Chrysler this innovation in 1967. There was something close to this called an "Auto-Cepter" crash restraint that was developed by Eaton, Yale and Towne Inc. and was offered in Ford models.
On July 11, 1984, the United States Government changed the FMVSS 208 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208) by stating that cars that were manufactured after the 1st of April 1989 had to have an installed passive restraint for the driver. A regular Air Bag or even an automatic seat belt would meet the requirements of the "new" standard. The Air Bag introduction was motivated by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Even though this was the rule for your typical compact vehicle, the Truck Air Bag wasn't required on light trucks until 1995 - which was about 10 years after the U.S. changed the FMVSS 208.
Three years later in 1998, the FMVSS 208 required that each vehicle have a dual front Air Bag and a de-powered Air Bag . They had this rule because they had too many injuries with the first generation Air Bags.
Do us all a favor, make sure that when your Air Bag goes out, replace it as soon as you can. We don't want anything bad to happen to you (: