In the modern world automotive manufacturers are continually striving to improve each vehicle's safety by implementing the latest technology, such as sensors, or making the vehicle itself stronger. But what about those basic safety pieces such as the airbag, where did that come from?
In 1967 Dr. Allen S. Breed developed a sensor that utilizes a small ball in a metal tube as a crash detector. If the ball suddenly impacts one side of the tube it sends a message that the vehicle has probably gotten in an accident and subsequently activates the available safety features that the vehicle offers.
This device and permutations of it were used in the early to mid 1970's with the airbag restraint system. In 1971 Ford build a fleet of cars to experiment with using an airbag. Later in 1973 GM followed in their footsteps on their Chevrolet vehicles with Buick, Cadillac, and Oldsmobile coming in 1974.
There was an international interest in improving automobile safety and the airbag fit right in with their priority. However, seat belts became the primary focus for a couple decades until airbags became standard on vehicles in the early to mid '90s.
1980 saw Mercedes add the frontal airbag to their S-Class models. In the case of an accident, the vehicle would sense the impact and automatically tighten the seat belts and deploy the airbags. Porsche actually became the first automaker to have both passenger and driver airbags as OEM (standard equipment) in their 1987 944 Turbo's. During the rest of the '80s automakers progressively added airbags to their vehicles until most had them in the early' 90s. Trucks and related vehicles would not follow in suit until halfway through the decade.
It is now a DOT regulation that all vehicles made in America have airbags unless special permits have been obtained.