One of the most important advances in automobile safety – the airbag was invented by John W. Hetrick. It was actually an accident which prompted Hetrick to design something for the safety of passengers in case of accidents.

It so happened that when Hetrick and his family were on a Sunday afternoon trip to the Pennsylvania countryside, they met with an accident. As they were driving, a large boulder suddenly appeared on the road. Hetrick quickly applied the brakes and veered into a ditch. Instinctively, both he and his wife put out their arms to shield their daughter from hitting the dashboard.

Hetrick had been an industrial engineer in the U.S navy. As soon as he returned home he started to think about some way to shield passengers in case of a crash and prevent fatal injuries. As he started to work on his idea, he was reminded of an incident from his navy days. While repairing a torpedo, there had been a sudden release of the compressed air that powered the torpedo, resulting in instant inflation of its canvas cover.

Hetrick proposed to used compressed air to inflate air bags during car crashes. He received a patent for his design in 1953.  Air bag system essentially consists of the bag itself, compressed air and a sensor to detect the severity of crashes. As people became more safety conscious, airbag technology soon improved.

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