Mercedes were the very first automaker in the world to fit the airbag and belt tensioners in a publicly available car. The first car to include these two life saving features was the W126 Series S-Class Saloon, which had its premier in the 1981 Geneva Motor Show. After the W126 in 1972 all Mercedes-Benz vehicles had the option of airbags and belt tensioners as an extra. Only 10 years later in 1992 all of Mercedes-Benz cars had a driver airbag as standard and in 1994 a passenger airbag was added to this also as standard.
The main impetuous for Mercedes developing the original airbag system was the sudden large increase in accidents during the 1960s, which Mercedes started to research in 1966. Airbags where not the first major safety achievement delivered by Mercedes. Prior to airbags the safety bodyshell with a strong passenger cell and crumple zones at the front and rear was introduced. These significant safety advances, amongst others, have positioned Mercedes-Benz at the forefront of customer safety.
Hot on the heels of the Ford Explorer and Lexus LFA, which were released in 2010, Mercedes-Benz is introducing the Beltbag system for the rear passenger seats. It is expected that the redesigned S-Class will be the first vehicles to contain this new technology. Although more recent cars, such as the Mercedes A-Class 2012, will not contain this feature, in the near future expect to see this system rolled out to most new models.
Much like the current Ford system, the Mercedes Beltbag system will only be in place for the back passenger seats. The Beltbags will be powered with charged gas that will inflate the strap to almost three times its normal width. This will increase the overall surface area that the impact of the crash will be spread over reducing the chance of injury and the severity of injury. Where the Mercedes technology differs from the Ford system is that the Mercedes Beltbag system will only be triggered on a frontal impact, whereas the Ford system will trigger on either a frontal or side impact.
The air bag feature in the initial 1972 S-Class was a resounding success. This caused other automakers to take notice and implement airbags into their vehicles soon after. In the 25 years since the introduction of airbag technology more than 25 million Mercedes-Benz vehicles had been produced containing airbags and countless lives have been saved due to the introduction of this vital safety feature.