"An airbag is a vehicle safety device. It is an occupant restraint consisting of a flexible envelope designed to inflate rapidly during an automobile collision, to prevent occupants from striking interior objects such as the steering wheel or a window. Modern vehicles may contain multiple airbags in various side and frontal locations of the passenger seating positions, and sensors may deploy one or more airbags in an impact zone at variable rates based on the type and severity of impact; the airbag is designed to only inflate in mild to severe frontal crashes.
Airbags are normally designed with the intention of supplementing the protection of an occupant who is correctly restrained with a seatbelt. Most designs are inflated through pyrotechnic means and can only be operated once....
...Airbags are designed to deploy in frontal and near-frontal collisions more severe than a threshold defined by the regulations governing vehicle construction in whatever particular market the vehicle is intended for: U.S. regulations require deployment in crashes at least equivalent in deceleration to a 23 km/h (14 mph) barrier collision, or similarly, striking a parked car of similar size across the full front of each vehicle at about twice the speed. International regulations are performance based, rather than technology-based, so airbag deployment threshold is a function of overall vehicle design.
Unlike crash tests into barriers, real-world crashes typically occur at angles other than directly into the front of the vehicle, and the crash forces usually are not evenly distributed across the front of the vehicle. Consequently, the relative speed between a striking and struck vehicle required to deploy the airbag in a real-world crash can be much higher than an equivalent barrier crash. Because airbag sensors measure deceleration, vehicle speed is not a good indicator of whether an airbag should have deployed. Airbags can deploy due to the vehicle's undercarriage striking a low object protruding above the roadway due to the resulting deceleration."