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Can an airbag be activated by a powerful kick (eg. jumping side kick)?

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    The answers explain this well but it's worth noting that airbags are not triggered from impact on the steering wheel or dashboard. They are triggered by deceleration. Jun 8 at 17:32
  • @MichaelWebb I think that philip's answer implicity assumes that Jun 9 at 9:24
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    @Michael Webb They can also be "triggered" by a mechanic who carelessly pokes around near the airbag wires/electronics with his screwdriver. That's why mechanics are told to disconnect airbags first if they work near them; the dangers of an airbag-propelled screwdriver ("rocket screwdriver") is often demonstrated as an educational measure. -- So, even kicking a mechanic working near an airbag will be very unlikely to trigger the airbag. It might trigger the mechanic, though.
    – Klaws
    Jun 9 at 11:00

2 Answers 2

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Possibly in an older car.

If you are driving an early 1980’s car with airbags, then the little metal ball in the little tube behind the grill was forced to push the spring all the way back to the contact which allowed electricity to flow to set off the ignitors (tiny explosive devices) which started the burning of material that quickly produced hot gasses that filled the air bag.

Since I could set off an airbag with a hammer to the grill (the idea is a rock, thrown up by the tires of a vehicle in front of you) this type of sensor is not allowed nor has been for about 35 years.

But, as Phillip notes, modern airbags generally require much more force, and often only deploy at higher speeds.

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No, at least not modern airbags.

Since the activation depends on several sensors switching at the same time, and they typically need that the whole car is accelerated with 3-5g including the corresponding deformation of the frame, no force a human can produce will suffice due to the inertia of the immense mass of the car. Kicking the steering wheel won't do much.

Just to put this into perspective, in order to accelerate a very light car of one metric ton so that the sensors go off, you'd need to produce at a minimum 29.34 kN (1000 kg, 3g acceleration) while a very powerful kick seems to typically top out at about 2 kN. That doesn't even count in roll resistance and that most of the force won't go into an actual acceleration of the car but rather into deformation of the front (or back).

Long story short, a kick can produce not even a tenth of the force needed to accelerate a very small car so that its airbags go off.

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  • FWIW, I have doubts on the veracity of the video, but youtube.com/watch?v=UjcoRFcmQuo Jun 8 at 17:06
  • Also relevant, youtube.com/watch?v=yalLtk3Afw4 Jun 8 at 18:16
  • @MacacoBranco I think the first video was either a malfunction (there was a HUGE recall of Mercedes a while back because of batches of Takata airbags going off randomly) or a fake. Jun 8 at 18:43
  • And, as I noted in my answer, some older cars had more easily triggered airbags. Jun 8 at 19:36
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    True, but this particular line (as one can see from the form of the headlights) wasn't produced before the year 2000 🙃 Jun 8 at 21:52

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